Contemporary Voices from Anima Mundi

A Reappraisal

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

Table Of Content


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)

Similarly, in her essay in this collection, “Spirit Crossings: A Nimipu/Tejana Cultural Perspective on Mortality and Death” (Chapter 3), Ines Hernandez-Avila, quotes Gloria Anzaldúa (2002, 541) on the Nahuatl concept of Nepantla, through which “you glimpse el espíritu—see the body as inspirited. Nepantla is the point of contact where the ‘mundane’ and the ‘numinous’ converge.” Hernandez-Avila’s Indigenous voice grounds her words in the immediate reality of life with relatives, both the living and the dead, both human and nonhuman. In her narrative, she conjures the reality and immediacy of an integral web of life, what was known in premodern Europe as Anima Mundi. The integrality of her cosmovision is clear, just as it is in the words of another Indigenous contributor to this volume, Guillermo Delgado-P. In their voices, there is no dualism between nature and culture, between matter and spirit.

So, too, Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, in her contribution to this volume, “Mapping the Chiasmus: Liberating Patterns in a Planetary Mandala” (Chapter 8), writes of the sacred geometries linking the human body and the universe, microcosm and macrocosm, and the way the various Indic Tantric traditions of meditation on the interior geometries bring one in resonance with cosmic geometries. In this she points out a parallelism with the ORCH OR theory of Penrose and Hameroff. It is also strikingly similar to what Swimme asserts in the above citation.

In his autobiographical essay (Chapter 5), Stefano Varese explains that the Ashéninka people conceive of the loss of the sacred cosmic interrelatedness as the result of an original human error, which must be corrected to re-establish the lost familial dialogue with all cosmic relatives.

The same theme is echoed in Rabbi Fern Feldman’s essay in this volume, “To Dwell in the Thick Darkness: The Sacred Dark in Jewish Thought” (Chapter 6), where human interiority and embodiment are integral with transcendence: “Darkness can be source, essence, innermost being, transcendence, embodiment, nothingness, emptiness, mystery.” She herself points out the similarity between this ←>no>6 | 7→cosmic darkness and the “fecund nothingness” of cosmic black holes that are at once vacuum and generators of being.

D. Ahmed’s narrative in this collection, “Lost and Found: Gifts, Dreams, and Sanity” (Chapter 2), will detain us here, since it highlights an aspect of colonization seldom acknowledged—namely that of the upper classes in formerly colonized countries—as well as giving us a vivid example of how the spirits intervene in this life. Ahmed narrates the story of a woman who came to her psychotherapeutic office with strange symptoms. Her patient was hearing voices, having strange visions and felt she was going crazy. The woman came from the same social class as Ahmed, educated and running her own successful business.

Ahmed, as a scientist—with an Ed.D. in psychology from Columbia University, as well as three M.A.s also from Columbia University—was faced with what seemed to her (and her patient) to be “magical” actions they could not explain. They both relied on modern secular assumptions about such beliefs, which they ascribed to the ignorant lower classes. The narrative takes us on their journey towards very different views, ones that reveal the deep erosion of the mystical traditions of Pakistan and, more generally, of Indo-Persian Islam. Their journey shines a bright light on how it is possible to overcome the colonization of the minds of English-educated upper classes in subaltern countries.

What we wish to emphasize in this example is that sorcery and healing are both holotropic practices. “Holotropism” is a term coined by transpersonal psychologists such as Stanislav Grof and Richard Tarnas. What distinguishes black magic from healing practices is the intention and the character of the practitioner. The town of Lamas in the Peruvian Upper Amazon, where Frédérique Apffel-Marglin founded the Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration, is renowned for being a town where both sorcery and shamanism are practiced. Having been associated with this place for more than two decades, she has become aware of what distinguishes healing from sorcery, namely the intention and character of the practitioner and not the healer/shaman’s recourse to invisible beings. What unites them is the knowledge that the cosmos is inhabited by invisible/nonmaterial entities, invisible to the normal human senses as well as the ability to have recourse to such entities for either healing or harmful purposes. She has also learned how strong the impacts can be from such practices, both sorcery and shamanism. In this respect, her experience is very similar to that of Ahmed. Furthermore, as in Ahmed’s case, the educated upper classes prefer not to consult a healer (shaman/curandero/yachak)—or at least they do not want others to know they have done so.

Jacques Mabit’s essay in this volume (Chapter 4) is based on a long clinical experience effectively treating drug addicts using the shamanic practices and ceremonies taught to him over many years by local shamans in the same Upper Peruvian Amazon region as Apffel-Marglin’s center. He writes about the reality of these nonhuman entities, including spirits of the dead and their interactions with ←>no>7 | 8→humans. According to him, good and evil spirits coexist in this invisible cosmos. He points the finger at the “masters of suspicion” that for contemporary Westerners have erased the existence of a coherent cosmic vision:

The universal nature of these figures from the invisible world has led some rationalist Westerners to interpret them as facets of the collective unconscious, projections of the inner world common to all human beings, denying them all objective external reality. This kind of logic is no more consistent than one that would deny the existence of trees, the sun, or the sea simply because these elements are often employed symbolically in dreams, in psychotherapeutic processes, or in artistic creations. (Mabit, Chapter 4, this volume)

The recognition of the actual existence of incorporeal cosmic beings by all the contributors to this volume resonates with Berry, Swimme, and Tucker’s cosmogenetic principle: “Differentiation, autopoiesis, and communion which together spell the cosmogenetic principle, are what prevents the universe from being a smudge or blob, from collapsing into an inert, dead mass, or from splintering into isolated singularities.” Since, as they repeatedly assert, we humans have emerged from this universe and are inextricably part of it, in all our dimensions, both bodily as well as psychically/mentally, it would seem irrational to consider humans to be estranged from the many other entities inhabiting the universe. This is made clear by the communion aspect of the cosmogenetic principle. That violence, destruction and suffering are part of the universe is fully recognized. It is what Swimme refers to as the “sacrificial” character of the universe where the death of one is the life of another whether in the birth and death of stars or galaxies or the predator/prey relationship here on earth. That immense beauty, generosity, love, and sacrality also suffuse the universe is abundantly made visible and affirmed.

However, as we are so vividly aware, all of this is highly controversial and too often dismissed as fringe or even worse. This is the direct result of the murder of Anima Mundi, the sacred, living and communally bonded universe of the Renaissance as well as of those who lived within such a universe, the occult philosophers and the wise women and men that were labeled heretics and declared by the Pope to be heretics towards the end of the fifteenth-century.6 Many of them were shamanesses and shamans using different European psychotropic plants such as belladonna, some psychotropic mushrooms or ergot.7 There is no doubt that some and perhaps many among them practiced black magic, harming others. There is also no doubt that many of them were genuine healers as in the case described in Ahmed’s essay or in Apffel-Marglin’s personal experience in Lamas, Peru or in Mabit’s essay. In any case our collective memory about this category of person has completely erased their positive healing powers and selectively retained only a memory of them as perpetrating evil.

As Apffel-Marglin details in the first part of her essay (Chapter 2), the worldview of these people, whether belonging to the literate occult philosophers or the oral peasant shamanesses and shamans, needed to be destroyed. The murder ←>no>8 | 9→of Anima Mundi was enacted by the inquisitions of both Protestant and Catholic churches with the encouragement of the natural philosophers who later were called scientists. These practices were forever branded as evil, satanic, and superstitious to be destroyed. Belief in their worldview referred to by historians as hylozoism, invoking a living, integrated and sacred cosmos, is viewed as a regression to a less enlightened obscurantist past to which we must never regress. We are heir to this legacy whether in a variety of religious traditions or in the materialist reductionist scientific tradition.

What has been forgotten and erased is that hylozoism needed to be replaced by a dead mechanical nature, a neutral domain required as a new and firm basis upon which to reconfigure the certainty that the wars of religion thoroughly fractured.8 Such a neutral terrain became the “object of study” of science thus insulating this new science from the bloody religious conflicts decimating Europe at the time.9 To build this new certainty, the new paradigm needed to be absolutely separate from what both the church and the Protestants considered heretical, namely hylozoism. Catholics and Protestants violently disagreed on just about everything except about the need to eradicate the witches and other “heretics.” On their part, natural philosophers needed a neutral terrain where religion and metaphysics could not intrude and risk creating political murderous mayhem, a terrain upon which to recreate certainty on novel bases which could only be claimed outside of religion and politics. This division—and hidden partnership—between a supernatural domain and a dead mechanical material one is still dominant today and has become global. What continues to enthrall us all to its regime is the certitude taught from kindergarten to PhD that religion is about a nonmaterial “supernatural” realm located above an insentient, dead, mechanical material world.

The period of these transformations in Western Europe was also the beginning of European expansion begun with the slave trade and the invasion of the Americas at the turn of the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries. This was followed by colonization and later by globalization. The expansion of this modern Western worldview continues apace through the hegemony of its type of education, its form of production, its global financial system, its consumerism and its technological wizardry.

Varieties of holotropic, shamanic and other related practices are viewed as ignorant and superstitious heir to this history. This is particularly relevant to the editors who work among Indigenous peoples of the Amazon region since there the dominant mestizo and criollo (descendants of European colonizers) society overwhelmingly sees Indigenous shamanism as primitive and backward, steeped in superstition. In her work with several high schools through the local provincial school board, Apffel-Marglin runs into such prejudice regularly. This history is also at the root of the resistance to a change in the materialist reductionist paradigm which Berry, Swimme, and Tucker all recognize to underlie all the institutions of ←>no>9 | 10→modernity including education. Isabelle Stengers trenchantly captures this attitude and its political implications in the following passage:

I received this word “reclaiming” as a gift from neo-pagan contemporary witches and other U.S. activists. I also received the shocking cry of neo-pagan Starhawk: “The smoke of the burned witches still hangs in our nostrils.” Certainly, the witch hunters are no longer among us, and we no longer take seriously the accusation of devil worshipping that was once leveled at witches. Rather, our milieu is defined by the modern pride in being able to interpret both witchery and witch hunting in terms of social, linguistic, cultural, or political constructs and beliefs. What this pride ignores, however, is that we are the heirs of an operation of cultural and social eradication—the forerunner of what was committed elsewhere in the name of civilization and reason …. In this sense, our pride in our critical power to “know better” than both the witches and the witch hunters makes us the heirs of witch hunting. (Stengers 2012)

The murder of Anima Mundi and the witches’ burning stakes that went with it began before conquest, slave trade, colonization and their heirs. This legacy is very much with us. We have all been colonized by this dominant version of history born in Western Europe. Coloniality has existed in Europe since those times and has spread everywhere there are schools around the world.10 The oral ones, or those who somehow evaded or resisted what Bayo Akomolafe (2018) calls “the One Tongue” in their education, are the ones least in need of decolonizing their minds.

In our academic experience, whether on campus or in study abroad situations, we have encountered a deep-seated suspicion about any form of Native American shamanism. In our study abroad courses, we have had to scrupulously keep such practices away from our students’ experience. The most that could be done is to bring them to the Takiwasi Center, founded by Jacques Mabit, for lectures about the therapeutic protocol, based on shamanic practices that his center follows. Academic administrations across the board seem to view the experience of such practices as not only illegal in the United States (although they are not illegal in Peru and hence not so for U.S. citizens while visiting Peru) but as forbidden to their students anywhere. In those offices, the legacy of the murder of Anima Mundi is alive and well and the “smoke of the burned witches” can still be smelled. This is particularly ironic given the relentlessly growing epidemic of drug addiction in a country like the United States. Apffel-Marglin found a New York Times article (2017) that details with precise figures the terrible price modern consumer society is paying for the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping the fifty states. Recent reports show that the epidemics of opioid addiction and mental illness are getting worse, even becoming a leading cause of shortened life expectancies in the United States.

More recent news informs us that now the number of opioid deaths has surpassed that of car crashes and homicides. Well, the problem will continue to be inescapable as long as our collective ego defenses repress the depth source of our ←>no>10 | 11→murder some four hundred years ago in Western Europe of the experience and celebration of this numinous world from which we sprang and of which we are made, a murder necessary to the emergence of this consumer society where just about everything is a commodity for sale. The fact that such an epidemic crosscuts social classes makes it clear that addiction can with difficulty be correlated with a lack of material goods.

The irony is that mainstream addiction treatment institutions mostly using methadone are known to have a low rate of success. Furthermore, recent research into the effectiveness of certain psychotropic substances for the treatment of a variety of mental illness, especially post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD), have contributed to a groundswell of interest in different types of psychotropic substances, including the plants used in Amazonian shamanism.11 Ayahuasca has become very popular and given rise to what critics have labeled “shamanic tourism.” The steep rise in popularity of ayahuasca in North America in the last few decades is sending an increasing number of people to South America in search of this brew. Inevitably, this has engendered the rise of charlatans wanting to cash in on that trend. Several scholars have condemned what they label “shamanic tourism” and warned of its dangers. Indeed, the rise of charlatan curanderos has occasioned not only financial despoliation and sexual exploitation but even some deaths. However, this phenomenon cannot be used to indict Amazonian shamanism per se. Such ever-growing stream of ayahuasca seekers from the north is also part of the search for alternatives to allopathic medicine as well as liberation from the monopolistic reign of a narrow bandwidth of “normal” consciousness. This search has led to the creation of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) part of the National Institute for Health. Some observers claim that complementary and alternative medicine nowadays draw as much as 70% of the U.S. population. The popularity of Amazonian shamanism is directly related to the fact that for the great majority of allopathic medical practitioners, the body is an insentient material object part of Descartes’s res extensa along with the material world and like the latter, devoid of mind.

There is now a growing body of research on the therapeutic efficacy of nonmaterial treatments such as the placebo/nocebo effect, the role that prayer plays in recovery and other such phenomena and includes the whole field of psychoneuroimmunology. University of Arizona’s neuroscientist Mario Beauregard’s book Brain Wars (2012) is devoted to an in-depth study of such phenomena. The founders and directors of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR), Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne, who have devoted some thirty years to the rigorous study of anomalous phenomena in the laboratory at the Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, write the following in their book-length report on their research concerning medical mysteries:

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Disillusionment with the perceived inaccessibility, impersonality, cost and in many cases, ineffectiveness of the contemporary allopathic approaches has driven growing communities of consumers to explore a burgeoning array of alternative health care options, many of which entails reinvestment in ancient or remote cultural traditions … and includes such practices as homeopathy, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, herbal remedies, prayer, and contemporary shamanism. (Jahn and Dunne 2011, 15)

However, the most detailed and thorough reporting on the therapeutic effectiveness of psychedelics/psychotropics comes from Michael Pollan (2018). He quotes the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as saying that the U.S. mental health field is broken. Pollan reports on the last twenty-five years of scientific research on the effectiveness of psychedelics for treating addiction and most forms of mental illness. He also states the following, referring to quantum physics, “matter might not exist as such in the absence of a perceiving subject” (2018, 413). This sentence comes from his new book on psychedelics. On that same page, he also states the following:

One of the gifts of psychedelics is the way they reanimate the world, as if they were distributing the blessings of consciousness more widely and evenly over the landscape, in the process breaking the human monopoly on subjectivity that we moderns take as a given …. Psychedelic consciousness overturns that view, by granting us a wider, more generous lens through which we can glimpse the subjecthood—the spirit!—of everything, animal, vegetal, even mineral, all of it somehow returning our gaze. Spirits it seems are everywhere. New rays of relation appear between us and all the world’s Others. (Pollan 2018, 413)

Given this growing body of research—experimental, empirical and rigorous—it is no longer possible to dismiss shamanism or the many examples of so-called paranormal experiences that Robert Tindall gives us of his visit to the ancient temple of Chavin de Huantar in Peru. In his essay in this collection, “Shamanic Archaeology at Chavín de Huántar” (Chapter 9), Robert Tindall gives us telling evidence of archaeologists using states of altered consciousness during shamanic ceremonies to identify specific features of pre-Columbian sites but do so under a pseudonym or anonymously given the mainstream rejection of the validity of such methods. The lived experience of most of the contributors to this volume, similarly, is overall considered out of bounds by the academic mainstream, and a form of superstition. Such name-calling is the historical legacy of how a past age judged such phenomena in Western Europe for very specifically Western-European cultural, political, intellectual, and religious reasons. Those reasons no longer exist and never existed outside of Western European societies and clinging to the materialist reductionist scientific paradigm begins to look more like what Stengers (2012) suggests, namely that of “a hegemonic scientific rationality … understood as itself the product of a colonization process.”

←>no>12 | 13→

In addition to these political ramifications, one of the most crippling implications of the rejection of the reality of this living, sentient and numinous cosmos and our integrality with it is for finding our way out of the present global ecological and climate crisis that threatens the very survival of countless species, including our own, and of the planet as we know it. Today, what Graham Harvey (2005, 31) calls “the monopolistic dominance of the alert-problem-solving state of consciousness” is protected by laws in most nation states while sacred, nonaddictive consciousness expanding plants are demonized and illegal. This has led to the gruesome contemporary landscape of totally legal consciousness-altering drugs such as Prozac, Seroxat, Ritalin, Oxycontin, and, of course, alcohol, all of which have generated untold harm. The recent exposé by Patrick Keefe (2017) of the case of Purdue Pharma, owned by the famous philanthropic Sackler family, and its development of Oxycontin in full knowledge of its addictive nature starkly reveals the enormity of the destruction deliberately unleashed by the opioid epidemic. It is totally baffling that such drugs are legal while those that bring us the voices of the Soul of the World are illegal and viewed as unreal, destructive and superstitious. More than ever we need the voices of the “Greater Anima Mundi” to awaken us to other intelligences in the cosmos that have healed, taught, and inspired us to find our way out of this catastrophe we find the earth and ourselves in.

This does not mean that we need to give up or eradicate the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness, only that we need to recognize its proper place as well as open ourselves to the humbling realization that our everyday problem-solving mind is not the only or even the best mode to respond to our present condition. We are not advocating an either/or paradigm, only an enlargement of what is considered mind and consciousness and who or what possesses them.


1 See especially Dolphijn and van der Tuin (2012) and Keller and Rubinstein (2017).

2 In what is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation, led by Niels Bohr, the observer/measurer plays a fundamental role in the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics. However, what the ORCH OR theory posits is much more radical, namely, a cosmic consciousness in resonance with human consciousness, a domain that Bohr, like most other physicists, banished as metaphysical and outside the purview of science.

3 This interpretation is followed by several leading physicists, among them Paul Davies, Bernard d’Espagnat, Freeman Dyson, Henry Stapp, and Andrei Linde (see Nelson 2015, 52).

4 See also the extraordinary Emmy-award-winning film based on this work, Journey of the Universe (Northcutt and Kennard 2011).

5 This is something they share with Beauregard, Dossey, and Miller (2014).

6 The pope declared witches to be heretics to be burned at the stake in 1484.

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7 The famous Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes has cowritten a beautiful book on European psychotropic plants (see Schultes, Hoffman, and Rätsche 2001).

8 Recall that for many centuries, the Church had a monopoly on knowledge and education and thus on certainty until the advent of the Reformation. On this, see especially Toulmin (1990).

9 This is only a partial view; the emergence of a different economy—mercantilism—replaced the manorial system, and its attendant enclosure movement was equally implicated. See Apffel-Marglin (2011).

10 We are well aware that a group of Latin American intellectuals argue that coloniality—that is, the colonizing of the mind—began with the Spanish invasion of the Americas, a point Stengers (2012) implicitly rejects when she asserts that Europeans are heirs to an operation of eradication, “the forerunner of what was committed elsewhere in the name of civilization and reason.” Hylozoism was being eradicated in Europe before Europeans sailed to other worlds.

11 In his latest book on psychedelics, Michael Pollan (2018, 335) cites Tom Insel, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), as saying that the U.S. mental health system is broken. Pollan’s book details recent scientific research about the effectiveness of psychedelics in successfully treating both addiction and mental illnesses.


Akomolafe, Bayo. 2018. Those Wilds beyond Our Fences. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. 2002. “Now Let Us Shift …. The Path of Conocimiento …. Inner Work, Public Acts.” In This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, edited by Gloria E. Anzaldúa and Analouise Keating, 541–77. London: Routledge.

Apffel-Marglin, Frédérique. 2011. Subversive Spiritualities: How Rituals Enact the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Beauregard, Mario, Larry Dossey, and Lisa Miller. 2014. “Manifesto for a Post-materialist Science.” http://opensciences.org/about/manifesto-for-a-post-materialist-science (Accessed October 3, 2017).

Dolphijn, Rick, and Iris van der Tuin. 2012. New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press.

Hameroff, Stuart. 2016. “Is Consciousness Guiding the Universe?” In Consciousness: Integrating Eastern and Western Perspectives, edited by Prem Saran Satsangi and Stuart Hameroff, 351–73. New Delhi, IND: New Age Books.

Harvey, Graham. 2005. Animism: Respecting the Living World. London: Hurst.

Jahn, Robert, and Brenda Dunne. 2011. Consciousness and the Source of Reality: The PEAR Odyssey. Princeton, NJ: ICRL Press.

Keefe, Patrick Radden. 2017. “Empire of Pain: The Family That Profited from Oxycontin.” The New Yorker (October 30). https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain.

Keller, Catherine, and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, eds. 2017. Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New Materialisms. New York: Fordham University Press.

Latour, Bruno. 1995. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Narby, Jeremy. 1998. The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origin of Knowledge. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

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Nelson, Adrian David. 2015. Origins of Consciousness. Nottingham, UK: Metarising Books.

New York Times. 2017. “Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis.” New York Times (January 6). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/us/opioid-crisis-epidemic.html.

Northcutt, Patsy, and David Kennard, dirs. 2011. Journey of the Universe. Film, 56 mins. San Francisco, CA: Northcutt Productions.

Peat, F. David. 1994. Blackfoot Physics. Boston, MA: Red Wheel/Weiser.

Penrose, Sir Roger, Stuart Hameroff, and Subhash Kak, eds. 2017. Consciousness and the Universe: Quantum Physics, Evolution, Brain and Mind. Cambridge, MA: Cosmology Science.

Pollan, Michael. 2018. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. London: Penguin Random House.

Schultes, Richard Evans, Albert Hoffman, and Christian Rätsche. 2001. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Properties. Randolph, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Stengers, Isabelle. 2012. “Reclaiming Animism.” e-flux 36 (July). https://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61245/reclaiming-animism/.

Swimme, Brian Thomas. 1996. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story. New York: Orbis Books.

Swimme, Brian Thomas, and Thomas Berry. 1992. The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era. San Francisco, CA: Harper.

Swimme, Brian Thomas, and Mary Evelyn Tucker. 2011. Journey of the Universe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Toulmin, Stephen E. 1990. Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. New York: Free Press.

chapter one

Western Modernity and the Fate of Anima Mundi

Its Murder and Transformation into a Postmaterial Ecospirituality

frédérique apffel-marglin

There exist no occult forces in stones or plants. There are no amazing and marvelous sympathies and antipathies, in fact there exists nothing in the whole of nature which cannot be explained in terms of purely corporeal causes totally devoid of mind and thought. (Descartes [1641] 1998, Pr. Phil., Pt. 4, § 187)

The veneration wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior creatures of God. (Boyle [1685] 2012, 15)

The Historical Demise of Anima Mundi

During the Enlightenment, the fathers of Western modernity and science, such as Descartes, Boyle, and Newton, actively argued against a prior Renaissance view that the world had a soul, that it was alive, and that all things in it—both human and nonhuman—were connected in an enormous web that was named Anima Mundi, the “Soul of the World.” This ensouled world was alive, and divinity pervaded it. The literate “occult philosophers,” as they are called, wrote on these topics. One of them, for instance, the fifteenth century philosopher Picco de la Mirandola (1463–1494), stated the following:

All this great body of the world is a soul, full of the intellect of God, who fills it within and without and vivifies the All …. The world is alive, all matter is full of life …. Matter and bodies or substances … are energies of God. In the All there is nothing which is not God. (Picco de la Mirandola, quoted in Potter 2001, 89)

←>no>17 | 18→

Paracelsus (1494–1541), a famous sixteenth century physician and occult philosopher, held that God as prime matter is the invisible substance that originates, sustains, and exists in all things. He held that God is not outside the world and that the human soul is divine. For Paracelsus, each planet crowns a hierarchy of people, animals, plants, minerals, and elements, all of them being bound together so that the action of one affects all the others. All things—be they natural, human, or made by humans—are connected through the Anima Mundi and are sacred, since divinity pervades everything.

The fathers of Western modernity—the natural philosophers—marshaled their arguments and their experiments against the occult philosophers. Simultaneously, the Catholic church and the new Protestant ones marshaled their respective inquisitions against the occult philosophers and their allies, the peasant “witches” and sorcerers who were the teachers of Paracelsus and, very likely, of other occult philosophers as well. All of them were declared heretics by both versions of Christianity, which were successful in eradicating most of them. By the end of the seventeenth century, the notion of Anima Mundi had become thoroughly tainted by the allegations of heresy and superstition. Today it is relegated to the status of quaint notions of an earlier unenlightened European age and gets dismissed along with the allegedly exotic and superseded spiritual beliefs of societies deemed to be primitive, backward, and underdeveloped.

The campaign against Anima Mundi was not a mere sideshow, a minor issue for the fathers of Western modernity; it was at the heart of the emergent worldview they were championing. The need to destroy Anima Mundi was perhaps the only issue on which Protestants and Catholics agreed. Almost immediately after Martin Luther’s expulsion from the Catholic church in 1521 and the creation of the rival Protestant church, conflicts erupted between these two branches of Christianity. The sixteenth century saw eight civil wars in France. These conflicts led to the thirty-year war in the early seventeenth century that engulfed Western Europe, when 35% of the people perished. There was only one issue on which these two sworn enemies agreed and that was the need to eradicate the occult philosophers and their oral peasant allies, the so-called witches.1 Such eradication was carried out successfully during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period known as “the burning times.” Yet another name for these centuries is the “Age of Reason”—an era that could only be established on the ashes of the stakes where witches and occult philosophers were burned alive.

The worldview of Anima Mundi clashed powerfully with two major trends of the times. First was the belief shared by both Protestants and Catholics that God transcended this world, that he was outside of His Creation. The immanence—as well as the femininity—of Anima Mundi had an aura of paganism and nature worship surrounding it, too much so for both varieties of Christianity. The Jewish Kabbalah and its Christian version, Cabala, had appeared in thirteenth century ←>no>18 | 19→Castille (on the heels of the Zohar, the most sacred text for the Kabbalists) and became influential among occult philosophers, such as Pico della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, and others (Yates 1979).2 As the essay by Rabbi Fern Feldman in this volume shows so profoundly, Kabbalah is a nondualist, mystical version of Judaism in which darkness, the feminine, and the depths are as impregnated with divinity as are light and the heights. Thus, occult philosophy garnered the opprobrium of both the Protestant and Catholic churches for its links to paganism and Judaism, both of which the churches considered to be superseded by Christianity.3

Secondly, the worldview of Anima Mundi clashed as well with the emerging trend of transforming land into a commodity through what is known as the enclosure movement. The commoditization of land—and, along with it, of labor—was a slow but crucial process in the formation of modern Western Europe, accompanying the development of capital. These trends led to the emergence of capitalism, also known as the market economy.4 Such changes were long in the making: it was not until the eighteenth century that Britain passed laws that gave legitimacy and full legal recognition to the enclosure movement, already underway for centuries (see Apffel-Marlin 2011, chap. 3).

Anima Mundi succumbed to the overwhelming combination of stronger forces triggered by the hostility of the Protestant and Catholic churches and the emerging capitalist economy. These forces were irrepressible in eradicating Anima Mundi. Ever since the second half of the seventeenth century, it has been tainted by the brush of heresy. It is now part of the quaint attic—or perhaps, better said, the “basement” with its resonance with the unconscious—in the imagination of Europeans and their far-flung descendants, having lost its heretical sting but none of its nonrational, even irrational, aura. Renaissance Anima Mundi was a numinous phenomenon, steeped in sacrality. It spoke of an enchanted world, harboring no nature/culture dualism in its breast. It included the earth and everything in, on, or around it: animals, plants, rocks and minerals, human-made things, planets and constellations. If we were to revive such enchantment, it would put a serious brake on those who are exploiting the world—both natural and cultural—for profit.

In fact, Descartes’s radical separation between res cogitans and res extensa transformed all that the latter encompasses—including the human body along with the bodies of every earthly being, rock, plant, animal—into an inert mechanism without sentience, without agency. This was a prerequisite for the Industrial Revolution, which treated every earthly being as a natural resource to be exploited or, in Brian Swimme’s ironic phrase, as “premanufactured consumer stuff” (Swimme 1996, 18).

The nonrationality or irrationality attributed to Anima Mundi stems from the view that rationality is the distinguishing, defining characteristic of humans, a view with a long pedigree in the West and one made into a quasi-dogma by Descartes. Human reason—this res cogitans—has metamorphosed into the view in fully fledged capitalism that such rationality represents the ability to calculate ←>no>19 | 20→one’s self-interest. The dogma that human beings “by nature” pursue their self-interest through using their calculative rationality is enshrined in introductory economics textbooks.5 Hence the deep-seated resistance to drawing what to many seems to be the rational conclusion when faced with ecological degradation and the contemporary exploitation of both human and natural resources. These processes have gone to extremes, involving the mass extinction of species, the climate crisis, and the income inequality in which 1% of the U.S. population owns over 60% of the nation’s total wealth. These are the signs of the corrosive as well as ethically perverse nature of late industrial capitalism. As Patrick Curry puts it,

The idea of an ideally disembodied, nonemotional, analytical, calculative reason in the service of self-interest terminates in an ideology, invented and spread to justify exploiting some other men, nearly all women, virtually all nonhuman animals, and the Earth itself: most recently and “successfully” through industrial capitalism. It doesn’t actually describe human beings as such (apart from those few who have succeeded, asymptotically, in turning themselves into quasi-machines), so it also can’t be used to distinguish us from other animals. (Curry 2011, 154)

The murder of Anima Mundi was a prerequisite for the emergence of both the scientific revolution and the capitalist economic system. For reasons I have detailed more fully elsewhere, the conflicts engulfing Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth century created a crisis of law and order, which emerged from a crisis of certainty.6 The Catholic church had exercised a monopoly over education for centuries; the Reformation shattered the Catholic monopoly on certainty. It was essential to re-establish certainty on a new foundation that had to be separated and insulated from the raging politico-economic-religious conflicts of the times (Toulmin 1990). Those new foundations can be summarized as consisting in the invention of a nature thoroughly cleansed of any religious traces of numinosity, divinity, and sacrality, on the one hand, and on the other, of anything labeled “metaphysical” that could lead down dangerous paths to religio-political conflicts. Hence there was a necessity to invent a purely “material” nature, which in turn required the murder of Anima Mundi.

This purely material nature was to be the “object of study” of a group of learned men—women were explicitly excluded from the new domain—who were to gather in a new space called “the laboratory.” This was a public space not in the sense that it was open to anyone but, rather, in the sense that it was the opposite of the occult philosophers’ cabinet of experiments, which were private and even secret. In this new space, the new material nature was to be interrogated through the use of experiments, often involving the use of measuring devices and other types of apparatus. The rules of behavior in that space were strictly enunciated in order to protect it from any potential conflict arising from political or religious ←>no>20 | 21→disputes. Robert Boyle’s invention of the scientific experimental method and of the laboratory in mid-seventeenth century England still dominates scientific practice today; this approach has enshrined the complete separation of the sacred from a nature that is viewed as purely material. It has also enshrined the division between a supposedly inert, mechanical nature and anything reminiscent of the mind or emotion—in other words, of the soul. Boyle’s experimental scientific method and the public laboratory where it is practiced enact the radical separation that Descartes posited between the mind and nature, the latter including the human body.7

Ironically, various kinds of scientific research conducted over the past century are revealing that the paradigm created by the fathers of the scientific revolution is sprouting more and more leaks. However, since all the institutions of modernity rest on the demise of Anima Mundi and on the new view of nature, intellectual breakthroughs, even those made in institutions dedicated to scientific pursuits such as universities, do not contain the necessary vital momentum to transform the various institutions of the nation state to ensure the survival of the world. Educational institutions cannot lead this transformation because their organization and functioning are too enmeshed with most of the other institutions of the nation state.

The nation state itself was an invention to seal the end of the wars of religion in mid-seventeenth century Western Europe.8 James Scott (1998) richly details how the new materialist worldview was completely entangled with the emergence of the nation state in the mid-seventeenth century, a result of the treaty of Westphalia, which put an end to the thirty years’ war. All the central institutions of the nation state (not all of them emerging at the same historical period), namely, the political, economic, educational, and financial institutions, rest upon the foundation of this new view of nature as pure materiality that is completely separate from the human mind.

Such a view was able to accommodate itself to a Western Christian understanding of the divinity as transcending creation. This statement oversimplifies the much more complex and often conflictual relationship between the two main forms of Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) and between both forms and the new worldview ushered in by the scientific revolution, but nonetheless, the statement contains a core of truth. The new mechanistic view of nature could not have triumphed if, in some fundamental way, it had contradicted Christian belief that creator and creation are distinct from each other; the very transcendence of the Godhead implied and necessitated such a separation. Indeed, it was the lack of such a separation in Anima Mundi that rendered it heretical to both forms of Christianity as well as unacceptable to the creators of the scientific revolution.

←>no>21 | 22→

A Contemporary Claim That Anima Mundi Has Returned

In an essay first published in 1982, the neo-Jungian archetypical psychologist James Hillman called attention to the anthropocentric (human-centered) nature of the field of psychology. He pointed out that dictionaries of psychology and schools of psychology of all orientations agree that reality is of two kinds:

First, the world [reality] means the totality of existing material objects or the sum of conditions of the external world. Reality is public, objective, social, and usually physical. Second, there is a psychic reality, not extended in space, the realm of private experience that is interior, wishful, imaginational. (Hillman 1992, 95)

In this view, the external world has no psyche, no soul; the soul has migrated and shrunk to the interiority of human beings. Since psychology is a modern discipline, its view could not have been otherwise. It was born thanks to the murder of Anima Mundi. Hillman continues to be impressed by the soul’s sophistication that he saw in his patients, which he attributed to a hundred years of psychoanalysis. He notes that during that same period, psychology has become increasingly individuated and intrasubjective. When the concept of mental pathology appeared, the focus of psychology shifted to the task of readjusting inner psychodynamics. As Hillman puts it: “Complexes, functions, structures, memories, emotions—the interior person needed realigning, releasing, developing.” (1992, 93)

Hillman briefly reviews the more recent field of family and group therapy, in which problems are seen as intersubjective, located in the patient’s close social relationships. Therapy then consists of improving interpersonal psychodynamics. However, the world remains “external reality,” an objective backdrop to human action and subjectivity but still one without its own subjectivity, its own psyche.

Hillman argues that although this intersubjective perspective acknowledges that the dynamics of the psyche are influenced by the small social group surrounding the patient, it still denies that such dynamics are part of the outside world. It does not view the outside world, whether it be human-made or natural, as having a psyche itself. This external world does not suffer nor does it communicate with the individual human psyche. Some varieties of social psychiatry admit that the built environment, such as cities, buildings, agriculture, mining, and the like, may be possible objective causes of psychopathology, but they are nonetheless considered radically different from subjectivity.

This was especially the American dream, an immigrant’s dream: change the world and you change the subject. However, these societal determinants remain external conditions, economic, cultural, or social; they are not themselves psychic or subjective. The external may cause suffering but it does not itself suffer. For all its concern with the outer world, social ←>no>22 | 23→psychiatry too works within the idea of the external world passed to us by Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, and Kant. (Hillman 1992, 94; emphasis added)

It would appear that social psychiatry recognizes the built environment as a possible cause of psychopathology but, like the “natural” environment, it is not considered to possesses subjectivity. In other words, the res extensa—whether built or natural, whether bodies or buildings—has no subjectivity, no psyche, no soul. This soulless res extensa therefore cannot be diagnosed with any sort of psychopathology of its own.

Hillman goes on to suggest that the external world exhibits serious, deep psychopathologies and that people, including his patients in particular, are suffering from psychopathologies originating in the external world. Hillman sees this causal relationship as being of a different order than is the one posited by social psychiatry. He reviews a long list of the psychopathologies of the external world, all of which are excluded from psychological etiology and therapy. All of his examples of psychopathologies in the external world involve humanly created disasters, such as wars, bank scandals, or ecological pollution.

Reading Hillman’s 1992 essay in 2018, I was struck by how these psychopathologies in the world have become much more pervasive, grave, and threatening in the intervening thirty-five years. Hillman mentions Vietnam, Watergate, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl, as well as bank scandals, government collusion, pollution, street crime, and the increase of junk consumer goods and deceit, among many other pathologies. For me, his labeling of aspects of the human-made environment with psychopathological terms triggers a plethora of revelatory perspectives on modernity. Let me quote some of his especially vivid observations:

To call a business “paranoid” means to examine the way it presents itself in defensive postures … [with] its delusional relations between its product and the speaking about its product …. To call a building “catatonic” or “anorexic” means to examine the way it presents itself, its behavioral display in its skinny, tall, rigid, bare-boned structure, trimmed of fat, its glassy front and desexualized coldness and suppressed explosive rage …. To call consumption “manic” refers to instantaneity of satisfaction, rapid disposal, intolerance for interruption … the euphoria of buying without paying (credit cards), and the flight of ideas made visible and concrete in magazine and television advertising. To call agriculture “addictive” refers to its obsession with ever-higher yields, necessitating ever more chemical energizers (fertilizers) and mass killers (pesticides, herbicides) at the expense of other life forms and to the exhaustion of agriculture’s earthen body. (Hillman 1992, 104–5)

Of course, when reading these lines, we tend to understand the pathology labels as literary devices, as poiesis. Hillman calls such a response an “ego-defense” that is unwilling to acknowledge an unconscious move to protect the Western modern dualist materialist paradigm. It is as if we moderns simply know that buildings, businesses, consumer behavior, and agriculture have no agency and no psyche; ←>no>23 | 24→only those humans designing and implementing those aspects of reality have these capacities. If their creations are viewed as pathological, it is because their designers and implementers are pathological; the causality runs from the humans to the external world, not the reverse. I can only agree that such a metaphorical reading of these labels is an unconscious defense of the modern Western dualistic materialist worldview in which the external world—res extensa—is strictly separate from mind, the latter being an exclusively human capacity.9

Today, some thirty-five years after Hillman wrote these lines, we constantly hear news in the media about “sick” buildings, toxic toys, carpets, and a plethora of other products, as well as descriptions of “sick” cities choked off by toxic air or reports about depressed agricultural workers.10 These pathological labels, however, do not begin to disturb the exclusive dualism between mind (or psyche) and world, since everyone is convinced that sickness comes only from human actions. These pathologies are human-made; in fact, all of Hillman’s examples are human-made ones. However, he does not seem to grasp the crucial difference between human-generated perversion, conflicts, and climate problems, on the one hand, and on the other, the world of Anima Mundi, as the following passage makes clear:

Death lurks in things: asbestos and food additives; acid rain and tampons, insecticides and pharmaceuticals, car exhaust and sweeteners, televisions and ions …. The material world is inhabited again; the repressed returns from the matter declared dead by Aquinas and Descartes, now as Death itself, and because of this resurrecting ghost in matter we are aware at last again of the anima mundi. (Hillman 1992, 111)

Hillman makes two problematic identifications in this passage. First, he identifies his list of examples, all being polluted human-made things, with the material world. Second, he identifies anima mundi with death-dealing pollution as a resurrected ghost in matter, an entity that lives not in matter in general but, more specifically, in human-caused polluted or perverted things. These misidentifications then lead him to the strange conclusion that such a death-dealing resurrected ghost is now, at long last, making us aware again of Anima Mundi. I would argue that this Hillmanian anima mundi bears hardly any resemblance to the original Anima Mundi.

As is clear in the statement by Picco della Mirandola and the description of Anima Mundi by Paracelsus that were quoted at the beginning of this essay, Anima Mundi includes the solar system, constellations, mountains, rocks, plants, and much more, and it is thoroughly pervaded by the divinity. The beauty of Renaissance Florence—which Hillman admires, along with many other cities of the period—arose out of the spirituality that was seen as saturating both natural and human creation. The figure of Anima Mundi, I contend, is a powerful symbol of an integral reality in which the human and the natural are integrated in an overarching web. I very much doubt that these occult philosophers, including Marsilio Ficino, whom Hillman especially praises, would recognize Anima Mundi ←>no>24 | 25→in these death-dealing human-made ecological catastrophes and other human-made perversions. Anima Mundi was an integral spiritual phenomenon devoid of the exclusive dualism between creator and creation as well as between the natural and human worlds—that is, between nature and culture—a dualism that was exacerbated by the advent of the scientific revolution and, more generally, by Western modernity.

Having said this, Hillman’s argument that the pathologies of this degraded modern, human-made external world are in fact psychopathologies is a crucial step toward recognizing that the external world, not just individual human beings or their social contexts, possess a psyche. This step allows us to recognize the agency of this external human-made world and how it can cause pathologies in human individuals. However, it stops short of acknowledging agency in the nonhuman world—an acknowledgment that was definitely made for Anima Mundi. I would contend that our times now call for a far more robust response to the psychopathologies of the human-made external world.

Reintegrating Mind and Body, Psyche and World

As the two opening quotations to this chapter reveal, Anima Mundi succumbed to the murderous attacks in the seventeenth century of both forms of Christianity as well as to the outright denial of its validity by the fathers of the scientific revolution. Taking a quick pulse of the situation in the world today, I would suggest that the situation may be different in the specifics but not in substance. The dualistic Cartesian/Boylian/Newtonian paradigm—also described in studies of the history of science as the classical scientific paradigm—which radically separated mind/psyche from world is still dominant today in academia and all other institutions of the nation state, as well as in modern media and culture in general.

In terms of religious conflicts—centrally responsible in the birth of this paradigm—the contemporary resurgence around the world of fundamentalist varieties of religion, some of a violent nature, as well as the almost instantaneous spread of ideologies through the internet, means that religious conflicts are by no means a thing of the past. In such a troubled religious and ideological global landscape, the search for inspiration from any particular religious or spiritual tradition easily stokes the fires of most forms of fundamentalism and, perhaps, some more mainstream religious traditions as well. I wish I could follow the lead of philosopher Raimon Panikkar (2018) in celebrating a diversity of such religious traditions within himself (as a Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist), thus enabling others to contemplate or revive such practices,11 although I realize this would be an extremely ←>no>25 | 26→long shot for most denizens of modernity. I would also love to find convincing arguments to legitimize the suggestion made by Jacques Vigne (2008), a French psychiatrist who became a Hindu sadhu (an ascetic who has renounced worldly life), to alleviate psychological suffering through the practice of “theodiversity.” I delight in this term coined by him since it carries with it the positive connotations of the term “biodiversity,” as well as being a cousin of Panikkar’s proud ownership of a multireligious identity. Nevertheless, as much as I would love to argue that theodiversity fosters the same resilience in human communities as biodiversity does in nonhuman communities, I must restrain my urge to equate these desires with reality.

Another major impediment to such a path is that in major theistic traditions, at least, the nonhuman world tends to be seen as something apart from the Source and as a mere backdrop to the human drama between that Source and Humanity.12 To my own astonishment, I have come to suspect that if we are to find our way out of contemporary ecological and other catastrophes, our best bet is a totally secular science, being a less conflictual source than existing religio-spiritual traditions. I must hastily add, however, that the classical scientific paradigm is seriously frayed and something else is trying to emerge to replace it. That something else is revising the dualism between mind and matter; it is also revising the total disenchantment of the world that science promoted. Let me offer some examples of this emergent revision.

The findings of certain recent scientific research projects are opening up new vistas through strictly empirical means. This research is being carried out entirely outside the bounds of anything remotely religious or spiritual. The most cogent of arguments advocating for the return of Anima Mundi or, alternatively, for a worldwide acceptance of Indigenous varieties of spirituality with their profound affinity to the worldview of Anima Mundi, are colliding with problems similar to those that Western Europe ran into when the Reformation unfolded. I think advocating such a return is a tempting choice but, unfortunately, also a dead end. Later in this chapter, however, I will come back to the necessity of making visible the numinosity of this postmaterialist approach. I will also argue for the necessity of embodying and enacting those new vistas, since a purely cerebral, analytical knowledge is not enough to generate actions that will bring about changes in the world. To foster these changes, it will be essential to have recourse to ancient ancestral rituals and other forms of expressions that have been tested through countless generations.

I have chosen the research of a biochemist named Candace Pert, a mainstream scientist who is utterly dedicated to her assays in the lab at Georgetown University, working feverishly and, in her own words, “accountable only to members of our highly exclusive club.” What is remarkable about this researcher is that the results of her painstaking work have completely transformed her in ways she never imagined possible. Even more striking is how the transformation she underwent ←>no>26 | 27→as a result of her findings in the lab propelled her to share what she had learned as widely as possible, beyond the usual fora of scientific conferences, meetings, and publications. I am grateful for her efforts, since I lack the specialized scientific training that would allow me to thoroughly understand the scientific communications that she and her coresearchers have published. She has also been willing to ponder the wider cultural and philosophical implications of her work, something that is discouraged, if not derided, in younger scientists by their mentors and colleagues. Pert published her findings for a wide general audience only some fourteen years after her breakthroughs in the lab and after having established a solid scientific reputation in her field (Pert 1997).13

In her study of peptide molecules and their receptors, Pert has discovered that all the systems of the body—the neurological, endocrine, immunological, and gastrointestinal—are interconnected through the actions of discrete messenger molecules. These different systems of the human body communicate with each other through such molecules and their receptors. For example, the immune system can communicate with the brain or nervous system through peptides issuing from immune cells, which can affect the brain through their action on peptide receptors in the brain’s blood vessels, on surrounding membranes, or even on neurons (Pert 1997, 172). She has demonstrated that the nervous and immune systems are clearly in communication with each other. Peptide molecules produced by one system can travel to another system where, through their attachment to a peptide receptor in the latter, information is conveyed between the two systems. Ironically, given the tendency of academic knowledge to be confined to silos, where, for example, the specialties of immunology and those of neuroscience, endocrinology, or gastroenterology prevent efficient communication among them, the implications of Pert’s discovery took a decade to have an impact on these other fields, even though she and her coresearcher Michael Ruff had published their findings in Science.

Her work managed to pique interest in a field that has been emerging primarily from psychiatry and psychology, a field called psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). Pert said, “By providing PNI with a clear scientific language, that of neuropeptides and their receptors, we helped legitimize it” (1997, 176). However, the term she and Ruff had coined for the broader system they were researching was the “psychoimmunoendocrine system.” The reason, she explains, was that they considered the word particles “psycho-” and “neuro-” to be redundant, since the psyche (Greek for “soul”) and the neurological system (or brain) are both of the same kind, namely, the mind. But as they discussed terminology, Ruff asked Pert a crucial question: why use the word particle “neuro-” to label a peptide that is also found in the immune or endocrine systems? Why speak of “neuroreceptors” if these are equally active in other body systems? Pert conceded that these were pertinent question. When they shifted their terminology and began using the terms ←>no>27 | 28→“peptides” and “information substances,” it became more obvious that they were describing a body-wide communication system that shares information across cellular barriers and among different systems of the body. Because the section of the brain where peptides and receptors are most abundant is also the section involved in the expression of emotions, Pert and Ruff concluded that the peptides and their receptors “thus join the brain, glands and immune system in a network of communication between brain and body, probably representing the biochemical substrate of emotion” (1997, 179).

Pert modulates this apparent emphasis on emotion by pointing out that what she and Ruff have been talking about all along is information. She speculates that the “mind” is the flow of information as it moves among the cells, organs, and systems of the body. Although the mind as humans experience it is immaterial, it has a physical substrate in the body and the brain where the immaterial flow of information occurs. She writes:

The mind then, is that which holds the network together, often acting below our consciousness, linking and coordinating the major systems and their organs and cells in an intelligently orchestrated symphony of life. Thus we might refer to the whole system as a psychosomatic information network, linking psyche, which comprises all that is of an ostensibly nonmaterial nature, such as mind, emotion, and soul, to soma, which is the material world of molecules, cells, and organs. Mind and body, psyche and soma. (Pert 1997, 185)

Thus, we can see that Pert and her coresearchers are conducting scientific work that is strictly empirical, based on an endless series of carefully prepared lab assays, and that is producing results that upend one of the most tenacious of modernity’s dualisms—that between mind and body. Since the body is part of the material external world, part of Descartes’s res extensa, her work has far wider implications for our understanding of nature, supposedly soulless, mindless, and purely material.

Skeptical, reductionist colleagues asked Pert, “Doesn’t the flow of peptide change the physiologic responses, which then create the feelings we experience? Doesn’t the chemical release of endorphins cause the feeling of pain relief?” The answer she has given opens up a radically new horizon, a veritable paradigm shift. Without denying the validity of the questions, she points out that they are only half of the truth. What she has discovered—and verified biochemically—is that, for instance, changes in the rate and depth of breathing bring about changes in the quantity and kind of peptides released from the brain stem and vice versa (Pert 2007, 312). Since many of the peptides are endorphins, which are the body’s natural opiates, our conscious, willed changes in breathing pattern have the capacity to diminish pain through the release of endorphins via peptide messenger molecules. Similarly, the consciously willed practice of biofeedback is able to control pain, heart rate, blood circulation, tension, and relaxation. Such discoveries lead her to the following extraordinary statement:

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We can no longer think of emotions as having less validity than physical, material substance, but instead must see them as cellular signals that are involved in the process of translating information into physical reality, literally transforming mind into matter. Emotions are the nexus between matter and mind, going back and forth between the two and influencing both. (Pert 1997, 189)

Thus, the peptides and their receptors amount to a process of information exchange, of two-way conversations between various systems of the body, all going on below the threshold of consciousness. Furthermore, these peptides and receptors amount to conversations between our conscious mind or will and the processes occurring inside the body. This bidirectional flow of information takes us out of the narrow Newtonian paradigm of unidirectional chains of cause and effect, like a trail of billiard balls.

Pert came to another profound realization via a colleague, Dr. Robert Gottesman, who brought their conversations around to the concept of information itself. He quoted Gregory Bateson’s (1973) definition of information as “the difference that makes a difference.” It is crucial to realize that the perception of such differences can only originate in a particular observer or perceiver: that is, a difference makes a difference only to the observer. This understanding constitutes a new metaphor, one that allows us to comprehend that the observer is an active part of defining reality.14

In recounting her scientific journey and insights in her book, Pert (1997) comes to an even broader conclusion: that the psychosomatic network she and her colleagues have discovered and documented should be described as a system run by an intelligence not of the individual but one that is shared among all humanity and all life. Recent research supports this view, she says, by demonstrating the existence of intelligence in mycelium, in trees and their root system, possibly in all plant life, and in animals. Humans are but nodal points in a vast, comprehensive shared network made up not only of humans but of the nonhuman world as well. She states:

It is this shared connection that gives us our most profound sense of spirituality, making us feel connected, whole …. To think otherwise is to suffer, to experience the stresses of separation from our source, from our true union. And what is it that flows between us all, linking and communicating, coordinating and integrating our many points? The emotions! …. I believe that the receptors on our cells even vibrate in response to extra-corporeal peptide reaching, a phenomenon that is analogous to the strings of a resting violin responding when another violin’s strings are played …. The oneness of all life is based on this simple reality: Our molecules of emotion are all vibrating together. (Pert 1997, 312)

In short, this dedicated biochemist, through patient, detailed, and sustained research in her laboratory, far from any church, synagogue, mosque, shrine, or other religious sites, has come to a view that powerfully evokes Anima Mundi without ←>no>29 | 30→once mentioning the name. History and theology are not fields that biochemists typically frequent. That is precisely why the spirituality that Pert discovered and articulated at the close of her book deserves to be called a form of a postsecular spirituality. It has its roots, ironically enough, in empirical research that has been carefully insulated from anything remotely spiritual. Since her findings do not spring from any particular spiritual tradition, they cannot be misunderstood as some disguised attempt to dislodge our traditional worldview in favor of a religious creed. Conversely, it is equally impossible to accuse Pert of “unbelief,” since belief nowhere plays a role in her research, her findings, or her theories. Furthermore, the spirituality she invokes is phrased in terms that are nonspecific and general enough to allow interpretation through the languages of other traditions. In today’s world, where religious strife is once again front and center in the news, this is welcome news indeed.

Postmaterialist Integral Ecological Ethics and Spirituality

Let me now return to the issue of Western modernity and the classical scientific paradigm, which I earlier contended is thoroughly implicated in our present widespread destruction of both the human and the nonhuman worlds. In this context, it is worth considering what has been called “integral ecology” (Grim and Tucker 2016). If it is true that the phenomenon of emotional resonance exists, then Hillman’s assertion—that psychopathologies in the external world cause psychopathologies in human individuals—takes on additional weight and substance. The daily news in the United States is saturated with reports of epidemic levels of drug and substance addictions, depression, suicide, alcoholism, and other psychopathologies. Additionally, the media gives us daily reports about new products found to be toxic to humans, animals, plants, as well as the soil, air, and waters. We can say that the psyche of the modern world is saturated with pathologies in the external human-created world, the nonhuman world ravaged by humans, and the psyche of individual humans. Our world and all of us are in dire need of healing at the collective and individual levels; to enable this to come about, it is essential that we devise new approaches to ethics and spirituality.

Although it is indubitable that many religious traditions harbor invaluable practices and ethical teachings that can help us on this path, it is also true that the spread of deeply entrenched forms of fundamentalism as well as secularism renders any possible recommendation of one particular tradition not only hopeless but dangerous, possibly abetting rage and violence from people who may interpret this as a derision of their own traditions.

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Before exploring this topic further, I want to make clear what I do not mean by spirituality. I emphatically do not mean “belief in a supernatural domain and beings.” First of all, the term “belief” is problematic because it points to adherence to a reality that one does not experience directly. The word “supernatural” assumes that this realm is not located in the world shared by humans, animals, plants, mountains, and rivers, and beyond to stars and galaxies. The term “supernatural” literally means that which is above that world, above nature. As the French anthropologist Jean Pouillon (1982, 8) remarks about the Dangaleat of Chad in Africa, the world for them—and, I would add, for Indigenous Amazonian people—is not divided between a this-worldly reality and another-worldly reality. The spirits are experienced rather than believed in, and this experience is, above all, a local one. Such spirits do not necessarily exist in the same way everywhere. Let me emphasize that my point is not that disembodied beings cannot be experienced; rather, in modernity, nonempirical beings are ipso facto relegated to a domain inaccessible to experience—a supernatural domain that one must believe in. I am not asserting that nonempirical entities or beings are simply the fruit of human imagination and do not “really” exist since they cannot be measured or empirically verified. I am instead insisting on the distinction between a belief in such entities, on the one hand, and on the other, the direct experience of them in an embodied manner. As Patrick Curry puts it in his commentary on religion and belief,

Most definitions of “religion” specify belief in one or more supernatural entities, which is not only parochial (the emphasis on belief, as distinct from practices and a way of life, is a particularly monotheistic one, and there is no God in Buddhism), but prejudices matters against nature from the start, since whatever this being or power is, it cannot be in or of nature, since it is supernatural. (Curry 2011, 139)

As our discussion of Renaissance Anima Mundi has made clear, varieties of Christianity as well as of Judaism embraced this nondualist spiritual vision that integrated the human, the natural, and the divine in one great sacred whole. The mystical esoteric traditions within the three major monotheistic faiths appear to have engendered nondualistic visions as well as experience-based practices.

However, the English language—and European languages in general—do not make it easy to articulate what I am attempting to convey here. The words “spirituality” and “spirit” commonly refer to something that is not matter, but our contemporary condition requires a language that communicates the integration of matter, the human world, and sacrality. As Curry points out, the sacred is that which is beyond human control, intrinsically valuable, and awe-inspiring, something that should not and ideally cannot be transformed into a commodity for sale. The more-than-human world—that is, nature with humans as part of it—goes beyond any particular understanding of it, any use of it, or even appreciation of it. Its value, as Curry (2011, 139–140) points out, is that of an inexhaustible mystery. ←>no>31 | 32→An integral ecological ethic and spirituality should be robust enough to lead us out of our modern Western anthropocentrism. To make such a massive undertaking possible, it must be translated into ways of life and daily practices that repeatedly and incessantly enact our integration with the nonhuman world, with the whole cosmos, with the sacred.

There is no doubt that the innumerable religious traditions of the world possess practices and ethics that can not only greatly help us on this path but may even be indispensable. However, given the global existence of entrenched secularism and varieties of fundamentalism, as well as militantly exclusivist or triumphalist mainstream forms of religions, advocating for any one of these traditions may seem to be an impossible endeavor, sure to be rejected—sometimes violently—by many. Paradoxically, it is from within decisively secular scientific practices in several disciplines that we can see initial steps to open up to both ecological spirituality as well as ecological ethics.

In this chapter, I have discussed the work of the biochemist Candace Pert, but in previous writings, I have focused on the work of Niels Bohr and that of quantum physicist Karen Barad, who has interpreted and extended Bohr’s findings. Barad emphasizes the ethical imperative that surges forth from Bohr’s breakthrough insight that the experimental scientific method is not just a method for measuring and observing the world but is part of what is being measured and observed. The scientific experimental method is not a neutral, transparent mirror of nature; rather, along with scientists, engineers, technicians, and all those who apply the scientific experimental method, it has a creative role in producing the “observed” phenomenon. We humans cannot but be responsible for a reality we co-create. One inescapable entailment of this is that there is no universal nature “out there,” whether it be thought of as an insentient, mechanical, purely material object or imagined as the One and Only True Nature. Since we co-create the more-than-human world, and since we humans are extraordinarily diverse, our dream of universality must also be surrendered.

Bateson’s point about the difference that makes a difference makes it clear that the reality being perceived/observed is co-created by the perceiver/observer. The classical scientific dream of a purely objective observer beholding a purely objective nature has to be abandoned. We humans are part of the cosmos, of nature; we need to shed the Western dream of our specialness, our singularity, a quality residing in our purportedly unique human faculty of reasoning, as if that gives us license to exploit, extract, and ravage the nonhuman world, using as a justification that it is good or profitable for (certain) humans.

From the science of cosmology, we learn the same lesson. Our galaxy is only one among innumerable other galaxies, even clusters of galaxies, all of which are expanding in the universe. However, no observation is possible ←>no>32 | 33→of this expanding universe from a point external to it. As cosmologist Brian Swimme puts it:

When I picture the cosmic birth as some kind of explosion that is taking place off in the distance, away from me, away from where I am observing it, just where am I standing? What provides the platform for my feet? How is it that I can stand outside the universe and watch its birth if I myself, from the beginning, am woven into this birth? …. The central archetypal pattern for understanding the nature of the universe’s birth and development is omnicentricity … a developing reality which from the beginning is centered upon itself at each place of its existence. In this universe of ours to be in existence is to be at the cosmic center of the complexifying whole. (Swimme 1996, 85–86)

It will take a while before I (and, most likely, many others) can digest this word “omnicentricity,” which sounds so much like a contradiction. A “center,” by definition, is not everywhere, as the Latin word omni suggests. As if this were not challenging enough, the discovery of the quantum vacuum has radically displaced reductionist materialism. Swimme says the quantum vacuum is nonvisible, meaning that many things are invisible to us but through the use of certain apparatuses can become visible. The quantum vacuum, however, by its nature, “can never be seen, because it is neither a material thing nor an energy constellation … it cannot even be pictured …. Even so, it is profoundly real and profoundly powerful” (1996, 97). More astonishing yet, out of this nonmaterial, nonvisible quantum vacuum, elementary particles arise and then disappear. Where there is “no-thing,” a vacuum, no atoms, no elementary particles, no protons, no photons, is where elementary particles suddenly emerge. Being itself arises out of a field of “fecund emptiness,” something that takes place throughout the universe. It seems that only the paradoxical language of contradictory words can capture such mysteries. And as Swimme points out, to suggest that material reductionism is not the only foundational reality in the universe throws into an abyss of doubt modernity’s justification of consumerism, its anthropocentrism and exploitative posture.

It seems that we are in a situation reminiscent of sixteenth and seventeenth century Western Europe where the radical discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton ushered in a new age, the modern age, anthropocentric, materialist, mechanist and reductionist. The recent scientific discoveries mentioned here—and only a few could be focused upon—have already intellectually superseded the classical scientific paradigm. What is harder to accomplish is to use those as the foundations for new institutions of society, new political frameworks, and new economic structures that embody the heart of these discoveries that we humans are entirely embedded in the nonhuman world, in nature, in the cosmos. We need a cosmocentric polity, economy, society, etc., enacting our nature as entirely part of, as well as embedded in the more-than-human world.

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Spirituality: Lessons from the Epidemic of Drug Addiction

Brian Swimme shares a revealing personal story about cosmological discoveries and attempts to communicate them. When describing his feelings when entering into the new cosmological findings and orientation, people often asked him if he used drugs. His initial reaction was to resent and reject such a suggestion, which he thought would lead his listeners to equate the feelings that cosmological discoveries induced in him with “tripping” and would equate it with all the negative consequences that come with drug addiction. However, upon reflection, Swimme came to very different views. He concluded that alcohol and drugs are an intrinsic feature of consumerism, necessary for its sustainability. Consumerism is based on the basic assumption of the modern worldview, namely that the world is made of dead objects. These objects are mostly “unmanufactured consumer goods.” The deliriously abundant glory of the natural world, of the cosmos, is reduced to an inert mechanism. Humans are of this world, created from and with it, and this Western modern paradigm cuts us off from the extraordinary expressiveness of this living, sensuous, numinous world. We are left alone among our kind, bereft of this numinous and exuberantly varied part of ourselves. The nonhuman world, the cosmos has agency, sentience and more. Candace Pert writes that like information, emotions travel between two realms: mind and body; the peptides and their receptors in the physical, body realm and the emotions in the nonmaterial mind realm. Information belongs to neither of these realms but touches both, occupying a nonmaterial realm called by information theorists the “inforealm.” She concludes thus: “Information theory releases us from the trap of reductionism, positivism, determinism and objectivism. Information theory is a rich language of relatedness, cooperation, interdependence and synergy” (Pert 1997, 261).

These and other such findings among several scientists have barely percolated within academia, let alone the wider society and culture. As argued earlier, all the institutions of modern society are based on the classical scientific paradigm, one that gives certainty and power over the nonhuman world and all those humans perceived as being close to it. All those institutions thus are not going to welcome with open arms the kind of news some scientists are bringing us lately. The reaction is what Hillman calls “collective ego-defenses” of the repressed unconscious of modernity. Modernity is still overwhelmingly in the grip of this dead world, which is also a deadening, pathological world. Swimme thinks that “hoping for a consumer society without drug abuse is as pointless as hoping for a car without axle grease.” He explains why in these terms:

When humans find themselves surrounded by nothing but objects, the response is always one of loneliness …. But isolation and alienation are profoundly false states of mind. We ←>no>34 | 35→were born out of the Earth Community and its infinite creativity and delight and adventure. Our natural genetic inheritance presents us with the possibility of forming deeply bonded relationships throughout all ten million species of life as well as throughout the nonliving components of the universe. Any ultimate separation from this larger and enveloping community is impossible, and any ideology that proposes that the universe is nothing but a collection of preconsumer items is going to be maintained only at a terrible price. (1996, 33–34)

Today these ten million species have been severely diminished with the largest extinction of species since the disappearance of the dinosaurs, and one caused by humans, giving our geologic era the label of the “Anthropocene.” We are all in deep mourning, depressed and bereft whether we are aware of it, or of its deep underlying causes or whether we have repressed all of this to our collective unconscious.

In terrible synchronicity, after writing these words, I opened my online New York Times and in it, I found an article on the devastating drug addiction epidemic sweeping the fifty states, entitled “Inside a Killer Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis,” detailing with precise figures the terrible price that consumer society is paying:

Opioid addiction is America’s 50-state epidemic. It courses along interstate highways in the form of cheap smuggled heroin, and flows out of “pill mill” clinics where pain medicine is handed out like candy. It has ripped through New England towns, where people overdose in the aisles of dollar stores, and it has ravaged coal country, where addicts speed dial the sole doctor in town licensed to prescribe a medication.

Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides.

And there’s no sign it’s letting up, a team of New York Times reporters found as they examined the epidemic on the ground in states across the country. From New England to “safe injection” areas in the Pacific Northwest, communities are searching for a way out of a problem that can feel inescapable. (New York Times 2017)

The problem will continue to be inescapable as long as our collective ego defenses repress the depth source of our murder some four hundred years ago in Western Europe of the experience and celebration of this numinous world from which we sprang and of which we are made, necessary to the emergence of this consumer society where just about everything is a commodity and thus for sale.

Meanwhile, there is hopeful news from Lisa Miller, the director of the Clinical Psychology Program at Columbia University Teachers College and also director of the Spirituality Mind-Body Institute. In her book (2015), she marshals an impressive amount of scientific psychological research that shows unambiguously that there is only one thing that can protect up to 40% of adolescents and young adults ←>no>35 | 36→from drug addiction, 60% of them from depression, and 80% from risky sex, and that is spirituality. She echoes the words of physician Jacques Mabit, founder and director of Center Takiwasi in Tarapoto, Peru, which is having remarkable success treating people with drug addictions, using a combination of Western psychotherapy and Indigenous ancestral plant medicine and shamanism.15 Miller states that the escape and connection that teens experience with drug use “needs to be understood as a spiritual quest, inherently good and important” (2015, 43). Such a view is also shared by Swimme, who writes:

It is simply not human finally to live a life sealed off from all conscious contact with those powers at work throughout the Earth and universe and within every one of our cells. So intolerable is this sense of being out of it, of being left out, of being without central meaning for the world, we will resort to any route to ease the pain. And the quick and mindless way … is to ingest mind-altering chemicals that dissolve the thin veneer of consumer culture … spiritually desiccated … [and] out of touch with the numinous powers pervading each being in the universe …. Thus, if only for a moment, and sometimes at a horrible cost … one can be at home again in the great flood of beauty. (Swimme 1996, 35)

Miller’s book focuses on bringing to parents the results of rigorous and multiple scientific studies, which amount to showing that lived spirituality is the only preventive measure that works. She does not spend her energies on tracing the deep collective roots of the drug epidemic in modern consumer society, although she repeatedly points to the problem as the result of a misplaced emphasis on material science. She emphasizes the split that occurs early in children’s development between “logic-based learning and direct experience and inner heart knowing” (Miller 2015, 169). Modern cultures, particularly the American, lack the value given especially to children and adolescents’ inner voices and inner wisdom as “not real” and “not scientific” (2015, 74).

Educational institutions from kindergarten through graduate programs overwhelmingly emphasize the rational, analytical mind, leaving to the arts such concerns pertaining to the creative imagination but not to “reality.” She calls this inner wisdom “heart knowing” and adds: “Due to socialization in our current society, heart knowing is often blocked, denied, or disintegrated. This leads to enormous suffering, as we can become cut off from other people, our higher selves, and even our transcendent relationship” (2015, 78).

Miller refers to a fresh kind of scientific research, a new generation of empirically based postmaterial scientific research. Although she makes no direct reference to Candace Pert’s research or the new cosmology of Swimme and others, these would certainly qualify for the label of postmaterial scientific research. According to Miller, children are born with a natural sense of being that is related to everything:

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Children are entranced by nature …. All things in nature are assumed part of the family. This natural curiosity is human, and the sense of a caring relationship with all living beings is spiritual. Children have a natural spiritual attunement with the world around them: they relate to animals, trees.

The young child is born with this assumed relationship with all of nature, from goslings to galaxies. (Miller 2015, 125–5)

Miller bases these assertions on several scientific studies of twins, both identical and nonidentical, that show unambiguously that we are inherently, genetically spiritual (especially Miller 2015, 54–64). She refers to a landmark 1997 twin study focusing on inner personal spirituality by Kenneth Kendler. The terminology used in this study, like others, speaks of spirituality as varieties of a transcendent relationship. Of course, the word “transcendent” is used in these studies is different from the way I have used it in this essay. It does not refer particularly to a dualist notion of the ultimate, or God, as being outside of creation. To my ears, this use of the term “transcendence” is almost synonymous with either the term “numinous” or “sacred.” The three basic varieties of transcendence according to these psychology laboratory studies are: (1) a “transcendent dialogue” with God, referring principally to the Judeo-Christian traditions; (2) “transcendent oneness,” a sense of being one with the universe, found among Eastern traditions and religions; and (3) the “transcendent other” known through nature, animals, forces of nature, the universe, and other people, as found within Indigenous traditions.

Since this essay is centrally concerned with integral ecology and the deep roots in modernity of the current integral—ecological and social—crises, my choice of terms is guided by that. Miller’s central focus is guiding parents toward helping the development of lived spiritual reality in their children as the most and perhaps only effective prevention against the most devastating epidemics of addiction, mental illness and other destructive behaviors.

In her laboratory research on adolescent individuation, Miller makes a significant distinction between lived reality and borrowed reality. In their individuation process during the decade from fourteen (puberty) and twenty-five (early adulthood), teens and young adults develop their natural, genetic spirituality and learn to distinguish it from the one received from their immediate social context and culture. Such a process takes a great deal of emotional investment as well as serious intellectual work. Puberty not only unlocks the process of sexual maturity but is also a time of “a biologically primed tidal surge in natural spirituality” (2015, 64).

Miller draws the conclusion, based on her studies and those of others, that for spiritual individuation to successfully protect against the most destructive behaviors, the process of individuation of this natural spirituality must be successful. However, she and her coresearchers found that adolescents and young adults were faced with a curious silence: in fact, nobody has talked to them about this experience. ←>no>37 | 38→“Without supported and guided spiritual awakening in adolescence, our teens are left to fend for themselves. The cost is high” (2015, 71). She states that a successful process of spiritual individuation may or may not include the family received religion. The process may replace the received family religious tradition with the young person’s own lived spirituality, or it may replace it with a mix of both. Nevertheless, Miller is clear that for a successful process of individuation to take place, it has to go through a personally lived experience in which spirituality is embodied and intensely felt, whatever its characteristics might end up being. Such a process should be impregnated with what she calls heart knowing, a kind of knowing that is rarely, if ever, cultivated in modernity.

Similarly, Brian Swimme points out that the dry, rational, abstract language pervading classical science (hopefully, I might add, less so in what Miller calls “postmaterial” science) cannot lead us to change our everyday behaviors: “Facts by themselves are not enough; what is needed is embodiment …. What we need is just the simple recognition that as we deprive ourselves and our children of direct contact with the numinous powers that fill the universe, we are choosing a diminished existence” (Swimme 1996, 45–46).

Conclusion: Healing the Split in the Peruvian Upper Amazon

For me, the imperative of our times is the need to heal ourselves and to help our children and our ravaged earth to heal—in other words, the need for integral ecological healing that will mend and overcome the split between nature and culture, between mind and body, and between mind and heart. In this endeavor, we need to avoid the Charybdis of fundamentalist rationality and materialism and the Scylla of unquestioningly accepting the received wisdom through parents, school and community. We also need to recognize that spirituality is at the very core of such an endeavor. The following anecdote reported by Miller could have happened in my own institution, Smith College, where I taught anthropology for twenty-six years:

A few months into her first year at an all-women’s college, [Marin] knew she was no longer unique. Her initial visit to the campus health clinic resulted in a brief chat, followed by a diagnosis of depression and an immediate prescription for an antidepressant; there were no offers for extended conversation beyond management of the medication. Her inner experience was not the topic at hand. Developmental depression wasn’t mentioned. Her depression was viewed strictly as an illness. (Miller 2015, 31)

During my academic career as an anthropologist at Smith, many students came to me with similar stories. I remember vividly being told by deans at orientation ←>no>38 | 39→workshops for faculty that we were never to engage students about their personal lives. We were told we were teachers, not psychologists or psychotherapists. The purpose of education, the deans said, is not to transform our students but to educate them with the accumulated knowledge housed in libraries and other repositories. I found myself frustrated and alienated with such dictums.

However, what finally drove me to retire early and run from academia was the sense that spirituality was considered taboo as a personal experience outside of attending church, temple, or mosque on the weekend. Anthropologists, of course, study the spiritual traditions of other folks, but to be personally touched, inspired, or even transformed by such traditions is a taboo that is strictly enforced within the tribe of anthropologists. We study about other people’s customs and practices, just like classical natural scientists study about a mindless, inert, soulless nature. Indeed, the discipline of anthropology was modeled in the second half of the nineteenth century on that of the natural sciences. It asserted that social and cultural phenomena were facts just like those in nature and could be studied with analogous methods. However, the new postmaterialist science—and the new materialism in science16—is showing us that it is impossible to remain outside of what we observe and learn about it. What we learn is about ourselves as part of what we observe and measure.

For most of anthropology, despite its avowed credo in the principle of the psychic unity of humankind, the encounter with peoples who are different from ourselves is not primarily one of reciprocal sharing, learning with and from each other, making ourselves vulnerable to experience, learning about the world and ourselves in a completely different way than the one we were taught, or finding these lessons enriching and even worthy of adopting. Any anthropologist who dares to learn from and emulate the people they study is criticized for “going native” and risks getting excommunicated from the discipline.17

As Swimme puts it so eloquently, when “we deprive ourselves and our children of direct contact with the numinous powers that fill the universe, we are choosing a diminished existence” (1997, 46). For me, the lack of spirituality in my academic life led me to a severely diminished existence. My experiences in India, most of which I went through during anthropological fieldwork, were what opened up for me those numinous powers of the universe. It changed me profoundly and permanently. But when I returned to academia and began my career as a professor, I had to perform the same split between my heart/soul and my head/rationality that Miller sees as so common in children who are raised and educated in modernity. I then passed many years in a sort of schizophrenic split existence between my academic self and my spiritual self. It eventually induced in me a pervasive form of depression. Having to stick things out at Smith at least until my youngest child had completed college, I decided to take action and, along with a physicist at Amherst College, created a Five Colleges Faculty Seminar we called “New Epistemologies ←>no>39 | 40→and Contemplation,” which was dedicated to healing that split.18 My physicist colleague immediately let me know we could not recruit interested faculty over the internet, only by word of mouth. I realized that, by the year 2000, faculty could come out of any imaginable sexual closet—but not out of the spirituality closet. My colleague and I tried to change things through this Five Colleges forum, but we were unable to institutionalize this space, give it academic legitimacy, or ensure its continuity, even though we had the strong support of the then chancellor of the University of Massachusetts. It all came to nothing in the end, but at least this seminar enabled me to emerge from my depression and face academic life with more equanimity. When my youngest child graduated from college in 2006, I decided to retire the next year. I was determined to create an alternative space with an alternative pedagogy and an emphasis on integral ecology.

I found it thrilling to learn of Lisa Miller’s work, coming from the heart of mainstream academia and supported by her massive scientific research, which demonstrates that lived spirituality is one of the most effective and powerful preventatives against drug addiction, substance abuse, and a host of mental and emotional disorders plaguing youth and young adults today in the United States. To me, it shows how much things have changed over the last ten years.

Although I was still deeply in love with Odisha in eastern India, where I did my first fieldwork, I had come to feel that it was unacceptable for me to be there pursuing my own agenda, uninvited and without anything to substantively reciprocate for the gift of teaching me. I decided that if I were to work anywhere in the global South, I would only come if invited by people who wanted something I could share. This happened some twenty-four years ago after I met a representative of a Peruvian organization of intellectual activists at an international conference in Canada. The end result of this meeting was an invitation to collaborate with them in their work in Peru, which I did on a part-time basis for ten years. After this period, I collaborated with the fair-trade coffee co-op in Lamas for an additional four years. Ten years ago, I experienced a severe emotional collapse due to happenings both in Peru and at home in Massachusetts. I did not want to ever come back to Peru; my zest for life seemed to be completely extinguished. Having had recourse to the healing powers of Amazonian sacred plants many times before, I went on a forest retreat organized by Center Takiwasi in Peru. During the retreat, I took the sacred plant ayahuasca in an initial ceremony and, for nine days thereafter, another master nonpsychoactive plant while living in my tiny hut in solitude. All was silence except for the trees and the birds and the wind all communicating with me, keeping me company. This experience not only extracted me from the deep well of despair I had sunk into, but, through precise images that vividly captured key episodes of my personal life, it also revealed my own role in this collapse. I emerged from this retreat a new person.

←>no>40 | 41→

From the teachings and subtle guidance I received from those spirit plants, as well as the more literal suggestion from my “adopted son” there, Randy Chung Gonzales, I founded a nonprofit organization called the Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration, located in the Peruvian Upper Amazon. At its field campus, where I am writing these lines, I have sought to create a space where the split between heart and intellect, mind and body, nature and culture can be healed and where my ethical quandaries concerning anthropology can be effectively addressed. Here I teach study-abroad courses and programs for students from the United States and Canada, attempting to integrate intellectual learning with hands-on work by recreating the perpetually fertile pre-Columbian soil in the Amazon known as terra preta (“black earth”) and applying other techniques. The aim is to share with Indigenous farmers an alternative to their slash-and-burn agriculture, a practice that is no longer sustainable since it contributes to deforestation and climate warming (Tindall, Apffel-Marglin, and Shearer 2017). Reviving the ancient soil technology originally developed by these farmers’ ancestors was a practical response to requests by some local Indigenous leaders.

Besides this activity, I also try to open up students’ hearts to the numinosity of this earth and the cosmos. We participate in rituals when invited by Native communities with whom we collaborate. We hold weekly gatherings in the evening to share experiences and engage in enactments that feel appropriate to the group with the aim of awakening our natural spirituality. All of this and more I have called the practice of “integrated pedagogy.” It involves personal healing, embodied hands-on work with the earth, and, of course, intellectual pursuits, many of them introducing students to postmaterial science and the new materialism. In tandem with ritual enactments, these activities bring about both healing and understanding in the students.

In this part of the Amazon, Indigenous spirituality represents a union between ancestral shamanism and Catholicism. Pope Francis’s ecological encyclical Laudato Si, along with his apology to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas for the horrendous way in which Catholicism was introduced and brutally enforced through its history on the continent, have transformed the confrontation between the church and Native Amazonians here into a fecund union. By issuing the encyclical, Catholicism has reinvested the nonhuman world with not only intrinsic value but also with numinosity. For the Indigenous and mestizo curanderos in this region, Catholicism and ancestral Indigenous spirituality are not experienced as antagonistic or separate forms of religions. This is one of the blessings of living in an oral milieu where memories of such a history have been blunted and lost their sense of horror.

Of course, I am not suggesting to my students that they should adopt this kind of spirituality; this would defeat the principle that truly healing and protective spirituality has to be a lived, embodied kind of spirituality. The sort of ←>no>41 | 42→experience I encourage in the programs at the Sachamama Center is one that opens up the young to their own heartfelt, lived, numinous experience. Many come troubled by disorders in themselves or in their immediate family members. Their own testimonies at the end of the programs attest to the healing powers of their experiences. The example of transforming a brutal personal history into a process of healing offered by local shamans inspires us to transform our own experiences of the ravages of Western modernity into a healing union in the new postmaterialist and new materialism science. It is through such a path that we may rediscover the numinous and enchanted nature of the world and of ourselves as part of this world.


1 For a fuller treatment of this topic, see Apffel-Marlin (2011, chaps. 2–3).

2 The Zohar was written in thirteenth-century Spain in Aramaic (a language no longer spoken). In Spain in the thirteenth century, Ramon Lull wrote a Christianized version of the Kabbalah (called Cabala to distinguish it from the original Jewish version) in Arabic. Among other features he introduced in this version was the notion that the unpronounceable, four-letter name of God was a foreshadowing of Jesus’s name.

3 On supersessionism as a doctrine of the church, see Carroll (2001). The anti-Semitic nature of most of Martin Luther’s writings is well known.

4 The classic work on these processes remains Karl Polanyi (1944).

5 Personal communication from Harvard economist Stephen A. Marglin.

6 For a fuller discussion of this, see Tindall, Apffel-Marglin, and Shearer (2017), especially chaps. 2 and 3.

7 On Boyle’s invention of the scientific experimental method, the two classic works are Shapin and Schaffer (1985) and Potter (2001).

8 On the institution of the nation state being central to the problems of modernity, see Duara (2015).

9 During and after the scientific revolution, natural philosophers, later named “scientists,” took it for granted that our minds are derivative of the Godhead, which is the origin.

10 On toxic cities, there are numerous media reports of massive air pollution, particularly in New Delhi and Beijing. On the science backing the causal relation between agrochemicals and depression among agricultural workers, see Weisskopf, Moisan, Tzourio, Rathouz, and Elbaz (2013).

11 See also Nandy (2001) on the practice of many Indigenous peoples in the first British censuses to respond to the question of their religious affiliation by citing a multiplicity of traditions. Even today, in several famous pilgrimage centers, some people who each have multiple faiths attend without any sense of contradiction.

12 On this point, see especially Thomas Berry (2006, 25–27), who lists six types of transcendence, all of which are, in my view, related to the notion of a God transcending this world.

13 I would not be surprised at all if the publication of her widely read book did not put a serious dent in her reputation as a first-rate biochemist, especially since it contains a foreword by ←>no>42 | 43→Deepak Chopra, a physician who openly uses Eastern spirituality in his writings, anathema to most academics and an excuse to dismiss his work.

14 This is also what Neils Bohr’s quantum physics showed. For a brilliant exposition and extension of Bohr’s work, see Barad (2007).

15 For years, my nearby nonprofit center, the Sachamama Center for Biocultural Regeneration (SCBR), has had a collaborative relationship with Takiwasi Center.

16 For more on the new materialism, see references in the “Introduction” in this volume.

17 I recognize that things have changed greatly in the field lately; however, anthropology remains overall a discipline dedicated to “representing” other worlds, a posture, I have argued (Apffel-Marglin 2011) that is a direct descendant of the colonial anthropology that created the field.

18 The five colleges of western Massachusetts are: the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Smith College, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and Mount Holyoke College. An organization called “The Five Colleges” administers a series of shared academic programs in which students from any of these institutions can take courses.


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Berry, Thomas. 2006. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Boyle, Robert. (1685) 2012. A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature, edited by Edward B. Davis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carroll, James. 2001. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Curry, Patrick. 2011. Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

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Miller, Lisa. 2015. The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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New York Times. 2017. “Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis.” New York Times (January 6). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/us/opioid-crisis-epidemic.html.

Panikkar, Raimon. 2018. Cultures and Religions in Dialogue, vol. 6, part 1: Pluralism and Interculturality. New York: Orbis Books.

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Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation. New York: Rinehart.

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Swimme, Brian. 1996. The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos: Humanity and the New Story. New York: Orbis Books.

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Yates, Frances. 1979. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London: Walton and Maberly.

chapter two

Lost and Found

Gifts, Dreams, and Sanity

d. ahmed

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand. (Auden 1991, 249)

This chapter is based on excerpts about an initial period of events forty years ago that are part of an ongoing story. Condensed for coherence, it is a mosaic of certain motifs or themes linked with Indigenous cultural knowledge systems in South Asian Islam and the problem of understanding embedded in the Western psychological “gaze.” In the first part, I present an impressionist “case history” of events and characters. In the second, I construct a framework for analysis, leading to the third part, where I make personal reflections on the subject. For reasons of confidentiality, all names and some personal details have been changed.

An Event, a Dream, and a Gift

Approaching forty, in many ways I had “established” myself professionally and socially in one of Pakistan’s largest cities. I had a successful private practice as a psychotherapist and was on the verge of becoming a professor at a leading art institution. Among my friends was Samantha Winter, with whom I shared a unique relationship. She was American and had come to Pakistan as a Christian missionary and teacher of English literature at the college I attended after high school. I was sixteen and she twenty-six. After college, our lives diverged. Samantha returned to the U.S., and I embarked on different journeys: travel, marriage, ←>no>45 | 46→children, and almost a decade as a graduate student at an ivy league university. But we kept in touch through letters and became close friends.

The cornerstone of our friendship was not only a love of Western classical music, literature, and the arts but also the writings of C. G. Jung. By my mid-twenties, I had completed graduate studies in clinical psychology, training with Pakistan’s foremost Jungian analyst. However, I felt I needed greater exposure to other disciplines and more pragmatic therapeutic methods. I left for the U.S., where Samantha and I crossed paths again. As always, I enjoyed her intellectually stimulating company. We shared intimate aspects of our lives and relationships and would analyze/understand/reflect upon them within primarily a psychospiritual Jungian frame. I was grateful for this friendship since no one else in my circle of friends at home or abroad at that time was interested in spirituality, religion, or Jung.

After almost a decade in the U.S., I returned to settle in my home city to pursue a dual career in teaching and the practice of psychotherapy. Within a few years, Samantha, who had always been keen to return, came back to teach in a school, and I welcomed her companionship. Beyond routine, the challenges of juggling career and children, and living (by then) as a single parent with my mother, life was generally good and full. The situation enabled me to also have an active social life, including frequently hosting big parties. In short, professionally, personally, and socially, there was an (ego-driven) sense of having successfully “arrived.” Or so I thought. Until around this time, a woman came to me for psychotherapy.

Tania, who was about the same age as I, belonged to the Pakistani upper class, was married to a professional, and had two children. She was a scientist trained in biochemistry and a successful businesswoman. Like many educated in the sciences, she was skeptical about psychology. But a friend recommended she consult me about certain disturbing symptoms. For example, during business presentations or meetings, she would randomly experience states in which she knew she was speaking but could not hear her own voice or it would seem very distant. She felt disembodied, heard sounds, and was constantly uneasy for no reason. There were no major issues in her marriage or with her children.

Her parents had separated when she was around ten. Her mother decided to leave Pakistan and settle in Europe, leaving Tania in the care of her maternal grandparents. She recalled how unhappy and angry she had felt initially, but with time, she settled into a pleasant, “regular” childhood of school, friends, and the like.

Tania spoke of her grandparents with great affection. Her grandfather was a little remote but always kind and loving. She particularly loved and admired her grandmother, who was a well-known political activist for the educational rights of Muslim women. Because of this political work, there were always many people around their home. Additionally, as is still common in South Asia, there was the inevitable stream of house guests and extended families of relatives, some of whom ←>no>46 | 47→would stay for months, even years. On the whole, it was a lively household with plenty of people, activities, and playmates for Tania. Thus, although the absence of parents was initially distressing, under the aegis of her grandmother’s matriarchal umbrella, she never felt unloved or neglected. As such, she did not think that her childhood may have caused any psychological damage.

After finishing her university studies, she entered an arranged marriage. Her grandparents passed away some years later. Apart from the usual problems of living with in-laws, her marriage was stable, her children were doing well, and her technology business was thriving. In short, there were no major traumas in the past or any ongoing crises of relationships. She came across as an attractive, intelligent, sensitive personality. Self-contained, soft-spoken, and low-key, she could be classified as an introvert.

The Event

Within days of our first meeting, a strange event occurred. I had finished work for the day, including a session with Tania, when she telephoned after dinner. She sounded anxious and asked if she could come over. I agreed.

She looked tense and agitated. Entering my study, instead of sitting in the usual chair, she began pacing up and down along the bookshelves lining the walls. Occasionally she stopped, glance at them, resume pacing, then stopped in front of a different set of books. She said she did not know what she was looking for, but it was not a book. After a few minutes of this mysterious searching, she finally stood in front of a shelf and, in one sweep, pulled all the books on it and threw them to the floor. She then reached toward the rear of the shelf and picked up something that looked like a paper folded over and over into a small rectangular shape. By now, I was a little alarmed. Her face was extremely flushed with beads of sweat, and her breathing was so rapid that I could see her chest pounding. She stood there holding something in her fist and before I could say anything, she asked me where the restroom was, as she needed to wash her face. Given her agitated condition, I accompanied her. After splashing cold water on her face, she quickly regained her usual restrained composure. I asked if she was okay and what it was that she had picked up from the shelf. She answered in a tone that was calm but commanding: “Go and get your mother.” She knew that my mother lived in the same house.

All this happened within no more than about five minutes. I was suspicious but felt it best to simply go along and see what would happen next. So I asked my mother to come and meet this woman. Tania greeted her and handed her the paper. She did not want me to touch it. My mother opened it fold by fold until its contents were revealed: an indecipherable grid of horizontal and vertical lines in ink, each square contained different letters of Urdu, Sanskrit, and Arabic script, numbers, and symbols. Below the grid were a few lines of Urdu that I could see. It ←>no>47 | 48→was an invocation to the Hindu goddess Kali Mata (Mother) to bring death and destruction on me and loved ones. My mother calmly announced that this was a “black magic” amulet and should be immediately disposed of in running water. This was done by a friend later in a river on the outskirts of the city. By the end of all this late-night drama, Tania was exhausted and went home. I was at a complete loss, my mind full of questions and suspicions about her behavior, motivations, state of mind. Perhaps she was on drugs and had not told me. Had she staged it all? Had she placed the amulet there herself earlier and, if so, how? Was this an attempt at manipulating me? If so, why, to what end? My questions went on and on like this.

When we met again, she told me her symptoms were worse. She could only explain the event as a compulsion she had to carry out without knowing why. The compulsion was accompanied by a recurring thought that had started imperceptibly during our session earlier that day but had grown to a point that she felt compelled to call me. The thought was that I was in some sort of danger. Once in the study, she sensed the danger around her at some physical level. Her body was acting like a radar that eventually led her to the exact bookshelf containing the amulet. Like me, she had also heard of such magical amulets but had never seen one. As a trained scientist, she herself did not believe in such things. She was as baffled as I and exceedingly distressed. Both of us vaguely knew that people in our society believed in magic, especially the poor and uneducated masses, but both of us regarded notions such as the evil eye and black magic as superstitions based on ignorance and lack of modern education.

Neither my mother nor Tania knew that for at least a year I had become interested in Hindu mythology. Although I had long stopped using Jungian analysis in favor of shorter, more current clinical methods, some of Jung’s ideas remained productively applicable to many aspects of religious art and culture. Thus, for example, Joseph Campbell’s perennially popular The Power of Myth (1991), based on Jungian concepts, was required reading in one of my courses. My interest in Hindu myths and archetypal religious symbols was thus driven by secular, academic motives. When something seriously interests me intellectually, I tend to become passionate, almost obsessive about the topic, and this had also happened with my reading about Kali, the Great Mother Goddess, particularly her iconography.

Some days after Tania discovered the amulet, it suddenly struck me that the particular figure I had been incessantly engaged with mentally for many months was the very same figure evoked in the amulet. Was this a random coincidence or was it what Jung called “synchronicity,” that is, a meaningful coincidence?

←>no>48 |

A Dream and a Gift

Following the amulet event, Tania’s symptoms became more severe. Along with experiencing hypersensitivity to surroundings, she heard distant voices that she could not understand, sensed a growing unease, felt disembodied, and so on. She was also dreaming a lot about her grandmother, so I asked her to record these. One entry in her journal was particularly intriguing:

I see a very bright and big shaft of light. I am on one side of the light and on the other is my grandmother. She asks me to come across toward her, but I am terrified of going through the light. Grandmother tells me not to be afraid, she keeps reassuring me to come across. Then I wake up frightened.

The dream led to various associations by Tania. Her grandmother was a devout practicing Muslim. She would wake up Tania as a teenager not only for the predawn prayer but often also for the late-night prayer, which is not compulsory in Islam although ranked highly for its spiritual value. Because of her grandmother’s influence, she had continued formal prayer regularly for many years. However, somewhere along the way of raising children, working, and so on, this routine had slipped away. She had not prayed in years. While I was still trying to figure out the amulet event and where to locate Tania on the spectrum of “psychotic disorders,” given her fragile and anxious state of mind, I suggested she should consider bringing regular prayer back into her life. Perhaps the dream was a reminder and praying might help.

Another noteworthy association concerned the death of her grandmother. Tania was in her twenties, married, and living in another city. Informed that her grandmother had had a stroke and was unconscious in hospital, Tania went to see her. At some point, with Tania standing by the bedside, the elderly woman opened her eyes and gestured to Tania to place her head on her (grandmother’s) chest. Tania complied. Placing her hand on Tania’s head, the grandmother said “I gift it to you” and died shortly after. Tania felt confused, but there was simply no time to ask what exactly her grandmother had meant. Over time, she forgot this episode, but almost twenty years later, its memory was triggered by the associations raised in discussions of her dreams with me.

A Clue from My Mother

In the absence of a professional mentor in the city and while respecting confidentiality, I would occasionally broadly mention interesting client “material” with Samantha or with my mother (who had a master’s degree in social work from the University of Chicago and was a trained counselor). When I asked my mother about her reactions to Tania and the amulet, she responded quite casually saying ←>no>49 | 50→that yes, magic is common and sometimes real, but one should not get too involved and regular prayer was enough “protection.” She felt that Tania was sincere and not “acting out” but was also intrigued as to how she had found the amulet. I mentioned how Tania would occasionally feel inspired to write down some phrases from the Quran in Arabic but she did not know what they meant and neither did I.1 My mother’s knowledge was extensive, and she would give the meanings and locate the verse. These phrases were mostly around God’s Attributes of Compassion, Love, Friendship, Protection, and repeatedly about not being afraid.

One day my mother, in her usual casual way, remarked that between the amulet and dreams, perhaps this was “the work of Khizr,” a legendary/mythical Islamic figure. The name seemed only vaguely familiar. I could not recall the precise context, but had a hunch it may have been in Jung’s collected works, which I had read many years earlier.

Luckily, I owned the entire set of eighteen indexed volumes and reread what it had to say in different contexts about Khizr.2 It was not much, mostly brief, in passing. But a few references caught my attention. The main one was an essay/analysis of certain passages of the eighteenth chapter of the Quranic story about Moses and an unnamed person who in Islamic folklore is called Khizr (Jung [1940] 1969, ¶5).3 Other short references mentioned how Khizr and the prophet Elijah were friends and did the annual pilgrimage to Mecca together. Another concerned the legend of Khizr having discovered and drunk the mythical “fountain of life,” hence—like Elijah—he did not die but lives forever, can take many forms, and so on. All of this was interesting but seemed to shed no light on Tania, her dreams and symptoms. It was a start but there were too many unanswered questions. A bit like hearing only the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth, again and again, then—silence.

Samantha was the only other person I knew who was familiar with Jung, so occasionally I also shared some thoughts with her. She had never read Jung on Khizr and her extremely negative reactions came as a surprise. Interestingly, while both she and my mother had considerable knowledge of depth psychology, neither saw Tania’s situation in psychological terms, rather, they both gave semi-theological explanations. That is, my mother spoke of certain obscure Islamic motifs, while Samantha, who knew about the amulet, saw Tania in the grip of Satan and became worried lest I too became “possessed.” I had always respected Samantha’s views, but her ideas about satanism seemed far-fetched. My mother’s clues seemed equally remote/obscure but with no judgment either way about Tania. These medieval and gothic explanations simply fueled my curiosity even as the momentum of bizarre situations around Tania increased.

But I did make one decision. Based on my mother’s remark which prompted me to find some fragmentary information from Jung, it was clear that Khizr was some sort of Islamic archetypal spiritual figure. Although I knew nothing more, suppose ←>no>50 | 51→my mother was right about Tania and the “work of Khizr”? If so, then I had to stop charging her for the sessions since, one had been told that money and spirituality are incompatible. My inner swirling thoughts around Tania were still of suspicion, skepticism, at times seeing what are considered “classic” symptoms of certain types of psychoses. Simultaneously, I was registering that in every way, Tania was fundamentally normal and was herself skeptical and afraid of what was happening. Eventually I decided to get money out of the way.

Thus, within a few weeks of our first meeting, I told Tania that I had decided not to continue in this “doctor/patient” relationship, but I was aware she was going through a critical phase and something powerful was in process. Additionally, I did not think it was malevolent or crazy, but also had no explanation for what was happening with her. However, I strongly felt that instead of resisting, if she were to “let it be,” something important would emerge and I would be there for her until this crisis was over. Thus, it was no longer a client/therapist relationship. Rather, both of us were together on a quest into the unknown for answers about what exactly was happening with her. And as events unfolded, somehow it seemed that I too was part of this “script-in-progress.”

The Wounded Healer

Soon, my own life started “falling apart.” Other than teaching and practice, my social life completely receded. All my spare time was spent reading or talking with Tania. Led by Samantha and her concern for my welfare, friends and family thought I had gone crazy, or as she had told them, I was in the grip of Satan. The therapist herself had gone nuts! I must confess, for a while I became insecure regarding my professional reputation. My mother did not say much, but listened and asked me to keep praying. I became a recluse. There was simply too much to research/read—and to talk about with Tania, who by then had returned to regular prayer.

I became an object of “concerned conversation.” Many relationships cracked amidst an atmosphere of suspicion and hostility. There was an unbridgeable void between myself and my peers. I tried explaining that Tania was not evil or manipulative, that this situation may have to do with mysteries of religion/spirituality, yet, I myself could explain no further. Their reactions were typically “modern,” of bemusement or alarm, because only the illiterate believe in magic. Since I was not illiterate—after all, I had multiple degrees from the West—in the face of such nonsense the logical conclusion was that I had gone mad. The one friend who did not think it was nonsense was Samantha. But she was convinced that Tania had tricked and dragged me into a dark, diabolical domain. All I could do was carry this inner/outer upheaval, continue praying and trying to understand what was happening. By now, not only with Tania, but to the extent that I myself was getting ←>no>51 | 52→entangled with some bizarre, paranormal phenomenon, it was clear that this business also concerned my own being as much as it did Tania’s.

I continued searching for answers through all available means. Pre-internet days, this was mostly books. Slowly, Tania started feeling that prayer was leading her somewhere strange, at times during the ritual and otherwise. She started reporting “symptoms” as related to a heightened intuition accompanied by greater awareness of her surroundings verging on a hypersensitivity which was not pleasant. That is, she felt that she was randomly picking up a person’s thoughts or feelings and emotions and found this deeply disturbing. She would often ask me to help stop whatever “it” was, she simply “did not want to know.” Like me, she was constantly skeptical about herself. She (and I) would question if her perceptions, were her own projections, or not. For example, there were situations when she had met some of my friends or extended family members for the first time, and subsequently would tell me of certain conflicts/issues they were “carrying” and which only I was privy to. Similarly, it seemed that her intuition regarding the presence of malignant magic “on” or “around” a person started to intensify.

During this period (about a year), she started “picking” up in my patients, what she saw as symptoms of malevolent spells but as filtered through me. I must stress that these “diagnoses” were made by her reluctantly, but since the idea was to share and understand, she would tell me. Simultaneously, because I was groping in the dark, and she herself could not rationally explain an intuition (which by definition is “irrational”), I also remained skeptical. Additionally, it was all very well to “see” the presence of magic and the mental suffering it could presumably inflict, but what was the point if one could not negate/cure/alleviate its consequences?

The answer came directly. Two years before I met Tania, I had developed a steadily increasing pain in my leg. I had consulted medical specialists at home and abroad, gone through all tests, and so on, to no avail. Eventually, it was diagnosed as pinched sciatic nerve which, barring surgery, can only be managed with strong pain killers. My mobility was restricted and I had resigned myself to using the support of a walking stick, especially when standing during lectures. One day Tania told me that she would like to try to do something about my leg, which she felt was linked to the amulet she had found. Without going into the details of the prayer ritual which transpired, suffice it to say that within days the pain receded, and since then has not recurred. Subsequently, we tentatively “tested” this with my mother in pain.4 I gave due consideration to concepts of “placebo,” “autosuggestion,” and the like but did not find them satisfactory. Tania herself approached it all in a tentative manner, not sure of herself, unable to explain much.

It is difficult to convey the sense of those days in which everything I thought I knew and was certain about, was stood on its head. There was confusion and fear that I had become entangled in a huge mess of my own making, made even messier by what was becoming a friendship with a woman perceived by others as full of ←>no>52 | 53→cunning and guile and out to destroy me; while I saw her as a sincere, soft-spoken, gentle person caught in the eye of a mysterious storm. And who now seemed to have a capacity to heal. She was totally aware of what my friends and some family were saying about her. It must have been deeply painful for her to be judged negatively with derision, but she took it all with grace and dignity. I still cringe when I recall what I put her through. In tandem, there was the feeling of being gripped by a mystery, of encouraging her not to be afraid, and both of us seeking refuge and guidance in prayer.

The Wise Old Man

Then, again via synchronicity, help came in the form of the teacher who had first introduced me to Jung, Dr. Jamal, and with whom I had subsequently trained as an analyst. He was a renowned scholar, not only of Jungian psychology but also of Sufism, the mystical dimension of Islam. I had last met him at least ten years earlier at his home in another city. He arrived out of the blue—now the archetypal wise-old-man—and I shared my turmoil with him: That, in my view, Tania’s “symptoms” were not pathological and beyond a certain point Jung was no help. I was full of doubt, confusion, fear and anger since many were convinced I was either mad or bad (in the grip of Satan). Dr. Jamal met Tania a number of times and reassured me that she was quite normal. He suggested some books on Sufism. I had known of his long-standing interest in this, but had never really explored the subject.

It has been said that mysticism is the great river flowing under all religions. Slowly, I began navigating different streams of an enormous body of writing spanning many centuries and continents. In the process, Tania and I gained not only new insights into Islam, but also a deeper understanding of other major traditions. One started to glimpse light at the end of the tunnel and the steady culmination of what has been called the soul’s “wandering in the wilderness” or the “night sea journey.”

With time, confusion and fear gave way to a different sense of excitement/exhilaration, renewed intensity in prayer, and vast amounts of reading on subjects which had me, so to speak, “spellbound.” At this stage, I started being inundated with patients at a scale which I had not experienced in many years of clinical practice—and after some time—never happened again. It was not a question of some sensational “fame” of mine, because much of the gossip around me (and Tania) was hardly laudatory. More important, at this stage, Tania’s “gift” of healing had barely begun to emerge. My long social retreat ensured that only a few individuals, such as Dr. Jamal and my mother, knew about it.

But during that period, strangely, there was a seemingly endless stream of patients, from all walks of life, even different parts of the country. The initial wave ←>no>53 | 54→seemed to be overwhelmingly victims of magic, at least according to Tania. Of course, none of these mostly middle- and upper-class people thought that their (different) symptoms were linked with magic. If anything, they had come because of my Western credentials. Suggesting the idea of magic would have been utterly counterproductive for them and professional suicide for me. In short, my interventions, as suggested by Tania, were entirely abstruse and indirect.5

By around the second/third year, Tania was settling into a reluctant acceptance of the steady unfolding of her grandmother’s gift. Its “practice” was primarily on my patients but only with me and my persona of the therapist/healer. In this phase, her diagnostic abilities steadily progressed from having to physically touch the person, to being in the same room to eventually a couple of rooms away. One had to handle these situations carefully and devise different scenarios, such as Tania sitting in the waiting/ante room posing as a patient, or as my “assistant” who would check blood pressure. Eventually she could “diagnose” from a distance.

What was fascinating for me, was that as such, my working methods did not change. That is, a person’s psychological “case history,” personality and related “issues” remained fully relevant to the therapeutic process. But in different ways, I would indirectly add whatever Tania suggested, such as giving a prayed over glass of water to a patient. In each case, I had a good idea of what change/improvement was possible in a given time span with different therapeutic techniques I had trained in. In short, I was keenly aware of the limitations of my discipline/practice and had considerable knowledge of what is possible or not with different ailments within a certain span of time. And there were just far too many cases of improvement/recovery to be explained away on the basis of my personal skills or as “mere coincidence” or flukes.

It was like being trained all over again, a crash course in the “new” (old/traditional) perspectives I had started immersing myself in theoretically, and their validity was being repeatedly demonstrated practically, in the clinical situation. In hindsight, simultaneously, it was clear that actually it was Tania who was being taught/trained in the ABCs of the gift of healing and given an opportunity to practice her knowledge via “my” patients. I, in turn, was going through a parallel process of unlearning/learning, not just about my profession in “mental health,” but more importantly myself—warts and all. In a way it was a sort of team work between Tania and I, in which she was, at least for a time, both student and teacher, while I was primarily a student (and still am). Whether it was my leg or psychological/spiritual/religious understanding, it was she who was the healer/teacher and I the patient/student.

Intellectually it was a very “rich” period. There were intense conversations with Tania and Dr. Jamal whenever he was in town. Still curious, and unsure of myself, whenever possible I would get him to sit in on some sessions providing a sort of second opinion. By this time, Dr. Jamal himself had developed a warm and ←>no>54 | 55→respectful regard for Tania. As may happen in the Sufi tradition, at some point, he asked Tania to accept him as her “disciple student” that is, to be his spiritual guide/teacher/guru. By then, I did not care about what anyone was saying. There was simply too much to learn.

It is impossible to fully describe the swirling mixture of emotions and intellectual ferment of that period. I have barely sketched some highlights of the early stages of a process which unfolded over a period of about five to seven years. By then, Tania had assimilated what was required. Until today, when I think it can really help, she continues through concentrated prayer and other spiritual methods to share her gift. Like Khizr, she is mostly invisible to its recipients, since by now her physical presence is rarely required. Lest I create an impression of reclusive piety, let me add that she never stopped working and continues with her public persona as a wife, mother and businesswoman. For various reasons, including her low-key personality, we mutually decided to keep all this “below the radar” of personal and social lives. Until today, few know of this aspect of our lives. Our families have become close friends, but still don’t know much, nor are they interested. They good-naturedly see us as two eccentric, close friends who, a long time ago, were constantly immersed in conversations about spirituality and religion and who now refer to God as “S/He” with “Her” sense of humor.

As for the rest, most of them have seen over time that the catastrophe implied in Samantha’s view of my friendship with Tania, has not happened. As such, I am pretty much the same person they have always known. I think they simply do not want to deal with anything beyond that. Nor do I have the urge to explain, as I had so desperately wanted in my earlier clumsy attempts to prove that neither of us were crazy.

Making Sense: Decolonizing Subjectivity

Today has meaning only if it stands between yesterday and tomorrow. (Jung [1928] 1970, ¶153)

The search for understanding led to concentrated research/study/ on, mysticism, Islam, contemporary post-Jungian psychology, and the interdisciplinary fields of what is broadly called “cultural studies” and the critique of modernity. Over time, a loosely structured explanatory framework emerged for understanding not just one’s self but also the initial diffused sense of social trauma and reactions of others. This section will broadly sketch a general conceptual framework located within the critique of modernity. Since the encounter with Tania was in the context of psychology and part of her “problem” concerned religion, the focus will be on psychology, culture and religion though not always directly. Thirty-five years later, the ←>no>55 | 56→world has dramatically changed. Extremist and violent ideologies, including religions, are ascendant globally. Indirectly reflecting many aspects of the encounter, the frame is a broad stroked alternative lens for understanding the past/present—and possibly the future.

Modernity, Psychology, and the Crisis of Meaning

It is easy to forget that current crises, from economics and the environment to different forms of violent extremism, have their source, and answers, in the human psyche. Originally a dense concept, today the psyche, is primarily understood as the “mind” within the brain in the skull, and which constitutes our sense of “self.”6

The concept of the self has been a long-standing, ongoing concern in feminism, which has extensively critiqued its construction in Western moral and political philosophy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (Willet et al. 2016). Even outside of academic philosophy, the self is a crucial concept, since it ultimately concerns our notions of humans, who we are, you and I.

As key elements of the conceptual scaffolding of the Enlightenment and modernity, psychiatry/psychology are quintessentially modern disciplines. They are based on neo-Kantian-Cartesian notions of the human self as a freely choosing ethical subject functioning on the basis of pure reason leading to pure moral truth which transcends culture. Feminism has long contested this disembodied vision inspired by “dead white males,” a vision that ignores gender issues in general and women in particular and valorizes the self as primarily Homo rationalis and Homo economicus. Cast as a lesser form of male, woman is the Other and thus, the nonperson, nonagent, nonsubject. “In Western culture, the mind and reason are coded masculine, whereas the body and emotion are coded feminine … to identify the self with the rational mind is, then, to privilege a narrow idea of reason and to masculinize the self” (Willet, Anderson, and Meyers 2016). This split between an emotional, nonverbal, “feminine” body, on the one hand, and on the other, a rational “masculine” mind is simultaneously a critique of the Cartesian dictum about the self: “I think, therefore I am.” This leads to what is called “the Cartesian masculinization of thought” (Bordo 1986) and what feminists in different disciplines call the “logocentric,” “phallocratic,” “disembodied” mind in Western cultural and intellectual consciousness.

Long before academic feminism, Cartesianism was absorbed into the ideas of Freud and Marx, and this combined vision of self and Other dominated the twentieth century. Not coincidentally, both saw religion as an “opiate,” a psychological aberration, and an “infantile illusion” without a future (Freud 1927). Despite feminism and contemporary psychology, it is crucial to recognize how deeply Freudian-Cartesian ideals remain psychologically internalized at a global level. Invariably listed as one of the “greatest minds of the twentieth century” by ←>no>56 | 57→mass publications such as Time (1999); as a laudatory Newsweek cover article put it, Freud’s views are now “equated with universal common sense”(1998). Given that his main quarrel with Jung was over religion and the fact that religion is back with a vengeance, this “common sense” needs to be scrutinized.

Simply stated, for Freud, a mentally healthy person must have a well-developed rationality and the ability to control through logic and will power, all impulses which run contrary to reason. This “ego”-self must govern all that is “me” including the dark, chaotic “id” and the religiously inspired “superego.” Any impulse/thought/emotion contrary to rationality is seen as “pathology” and must be controlled by the ego. Bringing a different, more culturally contextual view, Jung recognized that all ancient civilizations had mythologies which were actually religious and psychological in substance. The mythic pantheons were simultaneously a reflection and a projection of the psyche’s inherent diversity and of the transcendent realm. Male and female divinities were uniquely embodied, symbolic representations of diverse psychological capacities within humans, and also different dimensions of the Divine. Thus, the psyche is diverse, polyvalent, having “feminine,” “masculine” and numerous other dimensions. In view of our inner multiplicity, Freud’s rational ego-self is modeled largely on just one youthful male “god” among many, Apollo. In contrast to Freud’s categories of id/ego/superego, for Jung, mental illness was basically an imbalance, a one-sidedness in the presence of many other dimensions within us—including the spiritual/religious.

This inner multiplicity of the many is evident when we are alone or in initial stages of meditation. Even in company, there is nothing particularly rational about this inner stream of un/consciousness as thoughts, emotions and ideas come and go in no given order. Frequently they are beyond our control. Roving from sexual desire, to ambition, betrayal, anger, and more, the psyche as we experience it, is recursive rather than discursive, not consistent but insistent about its wide-ranging concerns.

Given the therapy supermarket today, it may seem passé to bring up Freud/Jung differences. But the fact remains that these differences nevertheless continue as distinct forms of epistemology, that is worldviews underlying the entire psychotherapeutic project until today, including the medical. If Jung sounds “unscientific,” it simply confirms the dominance of the Cartesian-Freudian paradigm.

Mythos and Logos

Putting it another way: For millennia, humans inhabited two psychological “worlds” and “languages” in tandem: a world of facts and a world of meanings. Based on rationality, logos enables practical human functioning, it is a world of quantifiable facts best expressed by science. In contrast, mythos is about “making ←>no>57 | 58→sense,” giving meaning to the impossible complexity of a range of emotional experiences we call “life.” Its language is symbolic.

Science/logos applies Cartesian logic to material facts. By definition, a fact can only have one meaning. Water will always be two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, no two ways (or meanings) about it. But when drinking, swimming or walking in rain, we don’t think of it as literal H2O. Its meaning/s will depend on our range of experience of it, and will be qualitative, subjective, multiple. Similarly, when depressed we speak symbolically of feeling “blue” or “down,” which convey a better idea of the experience than a biochemical label.

In post-Jungian psychology, the symbolic is synonymous with “archetypes” and is not about allegory, literary metaphor, or the substitutive shorthand signs of science. An archetype functions similarly to other axiomatic conceptual principles such as “matter,” “health,” “society,” “art,” none of which can be fully described, circumscribed or clearly identified, yet, they conceptually hold entire worlds together and function as psychological realities (Hillman 1983b).


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)

<B> Frédérique Apffel-Marglin </B>(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. <B>Stefano Varese </B>(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