The Primal, Sacred ‘Nature/Earth Landscape’

MIRCEA ELIADE, the historian of religion, once noted that:

“It was the prophets, the apostles, and their successors the missionaries who convinced the western world that a rock (which certain people have considered to be sacred) was only a rock, that the planets and stars were only cosmic objects – that is to say, that they were not (and could not be) either gods or angels or demons.”[i]

Earth worship persisted up to about 500 CE in Europe and is thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and spread throughout the Near and Middle East, Europe, Africa and Asia. Earth worship corresponds to animism – the belief that everything is endowed with soul/spirit. Indeed, the concept of animism “extended to plants and animals because of the spiritual power (mana) they were perceived to have as children of the Earth Mother”.[ii]

Earth worship persists today among certain ‘native’ and aboriginal tribes who choose to retain their primal knowledge and traditions, with a relationship of kinship between human beings and all of creation – vegetation, animals, the elements and other planets.[iii] It is an holistic approach to life, with strong emphasis on the I-Thou relationship.[iv]

The traditional Maori landscape exemplifies the primal and sacred Nature/Earth Landscape. In the Maori cosmology all living things are descendents of Rangi (the Sky Father) and Papa (the Earth Mother) and thus are related. The ancient Maori regard for their land was such that “at times it seems doubtful whether it is the tribe who owns the mountain or river or whether the latter own the tribe”.[v]

For traditional Maori, separation from one’s landscape was a spiritual as well as a physical dislocation. The alienation of Maori land to Europeans was sometimes referred to as the death of the land.[vi] The intense and mysterious ties with the land were such that before being executed one Maori prisoner asked his captors to allow him to view his tribal territory once more and drink from his river.[vii]

The Nature/Earth Landscape ‘focus of perception’ was to change with the advent first of Judaism and then Christianity, where a monotheistic patriarchal God held dominion over nature and conferred human dominion over nature to ‘the chosen’ and ‘the righteous’. With the domination by missionary Christianity over primal peoples and their spirituality, the power balance shifted and the primal, sacred Nature/Earth Landscape was challenged and superseded by a new revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape.

Geographer of religion Erich Isaac (1960) drew the landscape distinction between primal “magical-cosmic religions” where “everything is potentially sacred, but only in a few chosen places is the potential realised” on the one hand, and the “great religions of revelation” where God is “in no way confined by space” and the divine is removed from the landscape, on the other.[viii]

For Isaac, religions of revelation “contrast with the magical-cosmic religions in that the divine is outside of nature and man, and no site is intrinsically holier than any other. Sites are hallowed by God’s choice of them at a particular historical moment. The tendency of religions of revelation is thus to remove the divine from the landscape”.[ix]

Paradoxically, “while God is conceived as in no way confined by space”, God is at the same time “confined in so far as He (sic) is regarded as peculiarly attached to certain specific localities” or holy sites.[x]

The man-made city in monotheistic religions came to symbolize the heavenly order. As Yi-Fu Tuan points out “The city symbolized heavenly order. Within its walls one found just rules and discriminations; beyond them lay chaos and arbitrariness. The most heart-felt eschatological longings drew on city imagery in utterance”.[xi] This reinforced the alienation felt for the Nature/Earth Landscape outside the city walls.

Jerusalem was the Holy City – the prime City of God. According to the Genesis myth of creation, “the earth was without form and void, darkness hovered over the face of the abyss and a mighty wind swept over the face of the waters” although, in the end, there is perfect order.

“St. John saw a new heaven and a new earth on which there no longer existed any sea or darkness for the glory of God gave light. In the beginning was confusion. In the end St. John beheld the holy city of Jerusalem, which had the crystalline structure and radiance of some priceless jewel (Revelation xxi).”[xii]

While God may be found in his Holy City Jerusalem, on the other hand it is argued by Belden C. Lane that for the Judeo-Christian tradition, a “God made proximate in place may be no God at all”.[xiii] The call to abandon the security of place is a persistent theme throughout Western religious thought. Samuel Terrien maintains that the theme of God’s elusive presence forms the heart and soul of biblical theology in both the Old and New Testaments.[xiv]

The Father-God is distanced from the Nature/Earth Landscape and in consequence it is de-sacralised. God is above nature. As Belden C. Lane points out, the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) “spoke of this insistent rejection of pagan animism to have resulted in a ‘disenchantment’ of the world within the western mind, a freeing of nature from its intense religious associations”.[xv]

The God of the Old Testament, while distanced from nature, nevertheless establishes dominance over nature and confers the privilege of domination to the ‘chosen’ – the righteous and the faithful. God has the power to use nature to punish transgressors with natural disasters.

Thus geographer Jeanne Kay, writing in The Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 1989, maintains that human dominion over nature is inherent in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament within the Christian Bible):

“the Bible’s most persistent environmental message is that God confers human dominion over nature to righteous or faithful people, whereas God punishes transgressors with natural disasters… The themes of a beneficent environment as God’s rewards for good human behavior and a deteriorating environment as God’s punishment for evil resound throughout the Bible and were favorite themes of the prophets.”[xvi]

Christianity had followed in the Hebraic tradition of domination over nature. Yi-Fu Tuan points out that for early Christianity an express purpose was to “loosen man’s earthly bonds so that he might more easily enter the heavenly kingdom”.[xvii]

A CHANGE IN LANDSCAPE FOCUS AND IMAGINATION occurred, from one of perceiving the sacred in nature and the earth to an anthropocentric focus of perceiving the sacred to be in a heavenly ‘other world’ and in man’s soul – as distinct from his ‘profane’ physicality which linked him with other animals and the natural world .

This is well illustrated in the recounted experience of Petrarch, the fourteenth-century Renaissance humanist, poet and scholar. Taking a day off from his work on letters Petrarch decided to climb Mount Ventoux in southern France. From the summit of some 6,000 feet he took delight in the views of the distant chateau country of Avignon and the feeling of being “free and alone, among the mountains and forests”.[xviii] But as he stood in wonder he felt the urge to open Augustine’s Confessions, which he had brought along in his pocket, and there he read to his chagrin the Bishop of Hippo’s accusing words: “Men go gape at mountain peaks, at the boundless tides of the sea, the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling ocean, and the motions of the stars: And yet they leave themselves unnoticed; they do not marvel at themselves”.[xix] Petrarch later wrote that “I was abashed and I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned…that nothing is wonderful but the soul”.[xx] He left the mountain hurriedly, reflecting on how easily the world’s beauty can divert men and women from their proper concerns.

[i] Wendell, C, Bean & William G. Doty (eds.), Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), I, 128.

[ii] Andree Collard and Joyce Contrucci, Man’s Violence Against Animals and the Earth (Indiana University Press, 1989), 8.

[iii] Ibid, 7.

[iv] H. and H.A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen and William A. Irwin, The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man – An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946), 4-7.

[v] C.M.G. Gudgeon, ‘Mana Tangata’. The Journal of Polynesian Society, v.14, no.54 (1905), 57. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon, Maori Mind, Maori Land, Eratosthene Interdisciplinary Series (Bern & New York: Peter Lang, 1986), 58.

[vi] William Martin, The Taranaki Question (London: W.H. Dalton, 1961), 39. Cf. Hong-Key Yoon(1986) Maori Mind, Maori Land, 57 & 59.

[vii] Elsdon Best, The Maori (Polynesian Society, Wellington (1941 [1924]) vol.1), 397.

[viii] Erich Isaac, ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape v.9, no.2 (Winter, 1959-60), 14-15.

[ix] Ibid, 16-17.

[x] Ibid, 17.

[xi] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’, in: K. Butzner (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 86.

[xii] Ibid, 86.

[xiii] Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred – Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 189.

[xiv] Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence: The Heart of Biblical Theology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).

[xv] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 18.

[xvi] Jeanne Kay, ‘Human Dominion over Nature in the Hebrew Bible’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 79 (1989), 214ff.

[xvii] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Geopiety’, 26.

[xviii] Lane (1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 187.

[xix] Ibid.,187- 188. Cf. Confessions of St. Augustine, X, viii, 5.

[xx] Ibid, 187-188.

Geographers’ Landscapes

IN THE FIRST HALF of the twentieth century geographers sought to establish universal laws such as those found in physics or chemistry in their science. Environmentalism was earlier rejected because it was regarded as insufficiently scientific.[i]

Eminent geographer Denis Cosgrove points out that early geographers and teachers like Freidrich Ratzel (1844-1904), William Morris Davis (1850-1934) and Andrew John Herbertson (1865-1915), as well as methodologists who followed them such as Alfred Hettner (1859-1941), Richard Hartshorne (1899-1992) and Carl Sauer (1889-1975), all regarded geography primarily as a positive science.[ii]

[i] Denis E. Cosgrove, Social and Symbolic Landscape (Croom Helm, London & Sydney, 1984), 261.

[ii] Ibid, 260-261.

Landscapes of Geography

“Although the land exists, ‘the scape
is a projection of human consciousness,
an image received’.”
– Erlich

“Mentally or physically, we frame the view,
and our appreciation depends on our frame of mind.”
– J. Douglas Porteous

“Landscape is not merely the world we see,
it is a construction, a composition of the world.
Landscape is a way of seeing the world.”
– Denis Cosgrove

GEOGRAPHY IS ABOVE ALL the study of landscape. For geographers, the idea of landscape has undergone change and this is especially so from the mid-twentieth century onwards. Landscape has developed from a purely positivist and modernist, empiricist based concept, towards a cultural, humanist, existential, perceptual and postmodernist exploration. Landscape is now recognised by geographers as an inner perceptual conception.
The case here is that landscape is a ‘focus of perception’ . By ‘focus of perception’ is meant a focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating – and as such it is intrinsic to the psyche. The literary, the existential, the phenomenal and the imaginal, in the archetypal depths of the psyche, are all recognised by postmodern geographers as relevant. The academic study of ‘geography of religion’ has become a geography of landscape spirituality.

“Spirituality a Process and a Goal”

WHEN SPIRITUALITY IS INTRINSIC to the psyche from the point of view of Jung and other theorists, for example the physicist John Hitchcock – the realisation of the self, or individuation, becomes paramount and spirituality is both a process and a goal. Spirituality is a distillation and a refinement of spirit-matter. Jung argues that the origins of religious experience are in the human psyche itself.[i]

Heisig argues that Jung did not at any time claim that he could “prove” or “disprove” the existence of a transcendent God and in fact his personal views on a transcendent God are largely a matter for speculation. Those who call him an atheist or a pantheist have some justification and support. “On the whole it seems that he saw God as an ultimately unknowable and uncontrollable power at work within, yet not coextensive with, the collective unconscious in its widest sense”. [ii]

Dourley puts it more strongly: for Jung a conception of God as “wholly other” than humanity is “wholly inconceivable” and “one of the major pathologizing features of the Western religious tradition. For it removes from the fabric of life itself the psychic energies which fund life, “or it projects the source of these energies beyond life into transcendent deities whose ability to lend energy to life is greatly impaired by the projection itself ”.[iii] God can not be seen as discontinuous or wholly transcendent to human consciousness. “Jung’s psychology locates the origins of human historical religions and their symbolic content in the interplay between human consciousness and its unconscious generator and precedent.” [iv]

THIS HAS BEEN ATTACKED as undermining religion. It challenges the foundations of an external creation and redemption found in Judaism and Christianity and so Jung’s dialogue with various representatives of orthodox and transcendentalist positions both Christian and non-Christian was not always happy.[v] For Jung the deepest spiritual insights cannot be defined or proved, only experienced.[vi] The God image, or Imago Dei, comes from within the psyche. It is an archetype.

“The idea of God is an absolutely necessary psychological function of an irrational nature, which has nothing whatever to do with the question of God’s existence. The human intellect can never answer this question, still less give any proof of God. Moreover, such proof is superfluous, for the idea of an all-powerful divine Being is present everywhere, unconsciously if not consciously, because it is an archetype.”[vii]

THE GOD-IMAGE ARCHETYPE displays the struggle of the psyche for self-realisation; [viii] self-realisation is the spiritual goal for both the individual and all of humanity. It is an inner imperative. The realization of the self is more than a neutral therapeutic goal; it is the religious goal of Jung’s psychotherapeutic system. Individuation is both a process and a goal.[ix]

Curtis Smith argues that for Jung

“the ultimate authority in life is not an external one – be it church or state – but an internal one. In this light the realization of the self is more than a pentultimate issue; rather, for Jung it is raised to the level of a religious concern for all of humanity”.[x]

Again, the idea of ‘spirituality’ or ‘the divine’ within, is an ancient one. Jung held a very similar, if not identical, theory to the ancient Gnostics. As John Pennachio points out:

“Gnosis is defined as an intuitive process of knowing oneself. It is a series of secret mysteries and higher teachings maintaining that self-discovery at the deepest level is identical to knowing human destiny and God. Gnosticism took issue with institutionalized Christian dogma about the nature of the divine. For these reasons it was regarded as a Christian heresy and was systematically destroyed by the orthodox church in the early years of Christianity.”[xi]

WHAT THE CHRISTIANS regard as literal, the Gnostics regard as symbolic. Both Jung and the Gnostics held that ultimate knowing or truth only emerges as a result of an inner journey: “As is true for Jung, crucifixion, suffering and resurrection are interpreted as symbolic milestones on the way to spiritual enlightenment.”[xii]

For the Gnostics and Jung the inner journey and search for the centre is a religious quest and a search for the divine. Thus Pennachio concludes that “for Jung and the Gnostics spirituality is an intrinsic property of the psyche”.[xiii]

This view that spirituality is inherent in the psyche, hence God or Gods are archetypes inherent within our psyche, constitutes an enormous challenge to monotheism.[xiv] Both the foundational and factual historicity and the external objectivity of monotheistic patriarchal religion is challenged by the primacy of the view that spirituality is inherent in the psyche.

ULTIMATELY, SPIRITUALITY is sourced in the psyche and is intrinsic to the psyche. The idea of spirituality as within, or ‘intrinsic to the psyche (soul)’ and its archetypes, is both a recent and a very ancient conception, which has always posed a serious challenge to monotheistic religions and theology.

In the second half of the book it will be shown that spirituality manifests in our landscapes phenomenologically via our Gods and archetypes. First, however, what is landscape? It is to an exploration of the ‘landscapes’ of the geographers that we now turn.

[i] C.G. Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol.12. para.9. See also The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, vol.11, ‘Psychology and Religion: West and East’.

[ii] James W. Heisig (1979) Imago Dei, 138-9.

[iii] John P. Dourley, ‘The Challenge of Jung’s Psychology for the Study of Religion’, Studies in Religion, v.18, no.3 (1989), 302-3.

[iv] Ibid, 310.

[v] Ibid, 297 & 310. See also Dourley, ‘The Jung, Buber, White Exchanges: Exercises in Futility’, Studies in Religion, vol.20. pt.3.(1991), 299-309; ‘Some Implications of Jung’s Understanding of Mysticism’, Toronto Journal of Theology, vol.6. pt.1, (1990), 15-26.

[vi] Jung states; “Religious experience is absolute, it cannot be disputed. You can only say that you have never had such an experience, whereupon your opponent will reply: ‘Sorry, I have.’ And there your discussion will come to an end.” (C.G. Jung (1953-78). The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), vol.7, para 167; see also Anthony Stevens (1986) ‘Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Religion and the Neurobiology of Archetypal Experience’, Zygon, v. 21. no.1 (1986), 21.

[vii] Jung, Ibid, para 110; cf Stevens, Ibid, 20.

[viii] James W. Heisig (1979) Imago Dei, 134.

[ix] Curtis D. Smith, ‘Psychological Ultimacy: Jung and the Human Basis of Religious Meaning’, Religious Humanism v.25, no.4( 1991), 174.

[x] Ibid, 178-9.

[xi] John Pennachio, ‘Gnostic Inner Illumination and Carl Jung’s Individuation’, Journal of Religion and Health v.31, no.3, Fall ( 1992), 238.

[xii] Ibid, 239. See also Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Vintage, 1979).

[xiii] Ibid, 245.

[xiv] John P. Dourley (1989) ‘The Challenge of Jung’s Psychology for the Study of Religion’, 297-311. Dourley argues that “possibly the most significant implication of Jung’s thought for religious studies and theology remains his challenge to those who engage in either to experience individually and immediately the energies that birth the material with which they deal. In doing so Jung’s approach could cultivate a newer and more extended empathy in the study of religion itself through the transformation of the consciousness of those who engage in it” (p.311).