“Trickster God is Universal”

THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE – or Trickster God, otherwise known in the West as the Greek God Hermes – is universal. Trickster is found in the mythologies of many peoples. Like Hecate – whose cult probably spread from Anatolia into Greece and who is associated with Hermes – Trickster is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. He brings both good luck and bad, both profit and loss. He is the patron of both travellers and thieves. Like Hecate, Trickster is the guide of souls to the underworld and the messenger of the gods. He surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and miraculous. In traditional primal cultures, Trickster emerges under the dominance of the Earth Mother.[i] Combs and Holland point out:

“The trickster god is universal. He is known to the Native American peoples as Ictinike, Coyote, Rabbit and others; he is Maui to the Polynesian Islanders; Loki to the old Germanic tribes of Europe; and Krishna in the sacred mythology of India. Best known to most of us in the West is the Greek god Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[ii]

However, the Trickster God is not confined just to traditional primal cultures – today he is well and truly at home in the Technological/Materialist Landscape.

Trickster is at Home Today

AS JUNG STATES, the Trickster appears par excellence in modern man:

“He is a forerunner of the saviour, and like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine beingwhose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.”[iii]

While Hermes the Greek God is not reducible to the Trickster; in the West, the Trickster is frequently associated with Hermes – for example ‘Trickster Hermes’ and ‘Hermes the Trickster’. Combs and Holland argue that the Trickster God is universal:

“Best known to us in the West is the Greek God Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[iv]

The Trickster, like Hermes and Hecate, is also specifically associated with liminality[v] – thresholds, or the point beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.

Above all the Trickster is fun. In the Technological/Materialist Landscape we are all imbued with the Trickster and ‘his’ exploits – both angelic and devilish. We partake in his exuberance, ambitions, boundary exploration, trickery, games, sleights-of-hand, personas, commercial success, communications expertise, technological genius, liminality and in his shadow-side – if not in actuality then in fantasy. We both applaud him and are appalled by him. We live vicariously through the Trickster and his shadow via entertainment – films, video games and the mass communications of television, internet, texting, smart phones, magazines and books.

Today we are imbued with the Trickster. For those whose ‘focus of perception’ is primarily the Technological/Materialist Landscape, the symbolic correspondence between the individual’s inner life and the outer world has many of the characteristics inherent in the Trickster Archetype. When “an individual’s inner life corresponds in a symbolic way to the outer objective world, the two are connected by meaning”.[vi] In other words the inner life connected by symbolic meaning to the outer world is an indication of the governance of an archetype. As Combes and Holland state:

“The themes carried by archetypes are universal: they are neither wholly internal nor wholly external but are woven into the deepest fabric of the cosmos. This notion is supported by Jung’s idea that archetypes have their origins in the unus mundus, or “one world”, which is at the foundation of the psyche and the objective, physical world. Bohm’s concept of the holographic universe offers similar possibilities. It follows, then, that myths as expressions of archetypes might be expected to portray certain aspects of the object world as well as depicting psychological realities. Indeed many of the Greek Gods represent aspects of reality that overarch both the inner worlds of human experience and the external worlds of nature and society.”[vii]


[i] See for example Paul Radin, The Trickster – A Study in American Indian Mythology, with commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C.G. Jung (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).

[ii] Alan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[iii] C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980),142-3. (Note: The internet throws up almost 13,000 associations between Trickster and Hermes).

[iv] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.

[v] George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).

[vi] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990),  97.

[vii] Ibid, 79.

The Inner, Imaginal ‘Postmodern Ecological Landscape’

FACED WITH AN ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, the landscape which now confronts us is postmodern and ecological in focus. The Technological/Materialist Landscape is now frequently being questioned and even rejected for what could be termed a new, inner and imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

      This Postmodern Ecological Landscape is concurrent with a revision in epistemology. As has been shown, the modernist domination, objectification and externalisation of nature, built into concepts of science and modernist epistemology, has been increasingly criticised.[i]

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have returned to the primal animist sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that perhaps we are more self-consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscapes.

It could be argued that it is the inner archetypal landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs, that creates the outer landscapes of our being in the world. Indeed, as shall be shown in the final chapter, this is what was argued by Henry Corbin in his translations and interpretations of the writings of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic mystics and the Shi’ite, Mazdean and Sufi mystics in respect to their ‘visionary geography’.

If this inner landscape of the psyche – or as cultural historian William Irwin Thompson terms it, “imaginary landscape of the “middle way of the mind”, in which “we humans come to know our world”[ii] – is accepted, then we would seem to have arrived at, or spiraled into, old understandings, feelings and rememberings of our spiritual embeddedness in the natural world.

American environmentalist and academic Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that Barry Lopez is one of a number of contemporary writers of ecological literature who offers a postmodern and holistic view of humans, nature and spirit. Most of these writers share a sense that “in allowing the mysterious otherness of nature to present itself, the ultimate dimension of life, the sacred, is revealed”.[iii]

For Lopez, imagination is the key to the relations and interactions between the natural world and human beings. These relations are mediated by the imagination and creations of the imagination. Thus Lopez asks: “How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in? How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?”[iv]

Lopez argues that we must approach the land with an “uncalculating mind” and with an attitude of regard, because whatever evaluation we finally make will be inadequate: “To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know that the land knows you are there”.[v]

Imagination, mystery, wisdom, the sacred within the mundane and the reciprocity of I-Thou relation are all characteristics of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape. Lopez speaks of a relationship with the arctic landscape which is mystical, emotional, lyrical and reverent:

“I came to believe that people’s desires and aspirations were as much a part of the land as the wind, solitary animals, and the bright fields of stone and tundra. And, too, that the land itself existed quite apart from these.”[vi]

This is a very different imagination and ‘focus of perception’ from the secular I-It world of the modernist Technological/Materialist Landscape, in which the sacred has been critically and rationally excised from the landscape.

Oil workers in the arctic told Lopez “the Arctic was really a great wasteland ‘with a few stupid birds’, too vast to be hurt. Whatever strong men could accomplish against the elements in such a place, they insisted was inherently right.” A drilling supervisor said “Technology is inevitable. People just got to get that through their heads”.[vii]

Lopez like other recent writers of ecological literature, who could be described as postmodernist, share not only an extensive knowledge of the land but also an unabashed I-Thou relation with the Nature/Earth Landscape. They are not restricted by the I-It objectivist epistemology of science, technology and materialism. Rather they are willing and unafraid to use poetic language and acknowledge imagination and metaphor as a means of exploring and describing other ways of knowing. There is an emphasis on wholeness and relationship with the natural world. In Lynn Ross-Bryant’s words:

“Their intent is to know humans better by knowing them as part of the natural order, and, insofar as possible, through metaphor and imagination, to know the land better as well. Through this use of the imagination they come to an awareness of the whole process of which humans are an interrelated part which leads them to a double emphasis, first on human responsibility to the whole and all its parts and second on human spirituality as it is rooted in this experience of the whole.”[viii]

Unlike The Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape where the sacred is transcendent, and the Technological/Materialist Landscape where the sacred is leached from the landscape and men would objectify and manipulate the land to their own materialist ‘progressive’ ends, there is a revisioning in landscape perception by these environmentalist writers towards a Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

These writers “share a love for and extensive knowledge of the land emphasizing nature as nature rather than nature as a springboard to transcendent reflections on humans”.[ix] Ross-Bryant argues that for Lopez there is an interaction between humans and nature:

“imagination and desire encounter the landscape and the living things in it: knowledge is gained – not simply of one’s imagination, nor purely of the land, but of the mysterious process in which land and humans – all living things – are involved.”[x]

This is in essence a description of the mystical I-Thou relation.

Lopez wants to change the way we imagine the world. He shows the different ways in which Eskimos, explorers, painters and oil workers have imagined the arctic landscape and the consequences of their imagination. Ross-Bryant says of Lopez’s spirituality and what he identifies as sacred is an encounter with wholeness and mystery in the encounter with the earth:

“The experience of wholeness and mystery that he everywhere encounters in the things and people of the earth is the heart of his spirituality and his connection with what he identifies as the sacred.”[xi]

THE IMAGINATION HAS A ROLE IN EVOLUTION and one might add a spiritual revolution. Lopez states “The continuous work of the imagination…(is)…to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution”.[xii]

It could also be argued that it is the continuous work of the imagination to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed of, that is reflected at the collective level in historical changes in landscape ‘focus of perception’. In this regard, it is worth noting Bishop’s argument that:

“Postmodernism marks not so much the end of history, as the end of history as concrete reality … Indeed, it marks the beginning of history (the past memory) as a metaphorical reality. By identifying the possible plurality of histories, HISTORY can be deliteralised. Like all the old literal power-words – Progress, Duty, Heritage, God – ‘History’ now becomes an imagistic truth.”[xiii]

For cultural historian William Thompson the orthodox religion of our era is “scientific materialism,”[xiv] but at the same time “Gaia [the Earth] is a new landscape” and the new mentality is a “planetary culture” or “postmodernism”.[xv] While he uses different terms, Thompson’s arguments accord with the perspective of the postmodern ecological landscape.

Thompson critiques modernism and argues for the return of the imagination as a mode of participatory perception – a way of being in the world and knowing.

“[T]he value of the imagination returns to challenge the reductionist mentality of modernism that ruled during the period of the mechanization of the world picture.”[xvi]

Thompson points out that in the straightforward linear world that Whitehead called “scientific materialism”, “it is precisely simile and metaphor that the materialist is trying to eliminate in reductionism” and that:

“this naïve philosophy, cultural constructs like “space” and “objects” are taken to be independent of the mind that frames them through its own threshold of possible perceptions, and by a strange inversion that amounts to a perversion, “mind” and “culture” are reduced to accidental collisions of these imaginary “real” objects in “real” space.”[xvii]

We are at one of “those exciting times when the creative imagination of an entire civilization is undergoing a transformation of its basic mentality”.[xviii] The dynamic mentality of modernism, the mentality of Galileo, Newton and Descartes with its linear equations is moving into a postmodernist science of which Chaos Dynamics is one important expression.[xix]

The Gaia hypothesis has stimulated a new way of knowing the planet and it is “as large and imaginatively provocative for our era as Darwinian evolution was for our great-grand parents time”.[xx] It gives “a new way of appreciating how the part participates in the whole” .[xxi]

Again there is great emphasis on the imagination. Thompson maintains that the imagistic mode that we call the Imagination is an ancient faculty which seems to involve a prelinguistic form of mind in which “thought is developed through correspondences, homologies, and participations of identity”.[xxii]

The imagination “is like a transformer” and metaphors are by their very nature transformers.[xxiii] Thompson argues that it is the “metaphorical process through which the Imagination takes in knowledge and steps it down into the conventional imagery of the sensory world with which we are all familiar… the Imagination is an intermediate realm, the realm of the artist, scientist, or prophet who renders the Intelligible into the Sensible”.[xxiv] The fundamentalist is not able to follow the symbolic utterance and takes image literally.[xxv] Thompson concludes that:

“Between the heights of the macrocosm of the Gaian atmosphere and the elemental depths of the microcosm of the bacterial earth lies the middle way of the Mind and it is in this imaginary landscape of the middle way, whether we call it the Madhyamika of Buddhism or the Christ of Steiner or the Da’at of the Kabbalah, that we humans take our life and come to know our world as the dark horizon that illuminates our hidden center.”[xxvi]

In Thompson’s view, landscape is inextricably tied to the interior mind and the imagination; and this is a postmodern view of landscape.

LANDSCAPES ARE BOTH IMAGINAL AND VISIONARY. Landscapes are sourced in the personal and collective imagination of the psyche. That our landscapes derive from personal and collective imagination has long been recognized by geographers wrestling with the concept of landscape. The prime role of the imagination in creating landscape is inherent in postmodern geography. It is however in the consideration of spiritual landscapes that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes: the primal sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; the Judeao-Christian revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape; the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; and the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape which allows for an Inner Landscape from which our outer landscapes are a manifestation and materialization.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the animist, sacred, Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that we are more consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscape.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes have simultaneously undergone historical change and are timeless. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual, imaginal-visionary landscapes, which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent and centred in the individual’s psyche, is the subject for the next chapter.

[i] Cindy Katz and Andrew Kirby, ‘In the Nature of Things: The Environment and Everyday Life’, in: Transactions – Institute of British Geographers, v.16, no.3 (1991), 259-271.

[ii] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1989),169.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 38.

[iv] Lopez, Arctic Dreams, xxvii.

[v] Ibid, 228.

[vi] Ibid, xxii.

[vii] Ibid, 398-399.

[viii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, 39.

[ix] Ibid, 39.

[x] Ibid, 41.

[xi] Ibid, 49.

[xii] Lopez(1998) Arctic Dreams, 414.

[xiii] P. Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory, and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space,  v.10, no.1 (1992), 17.

[xiv] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, 52.

[xv] Ibid, 130; see also 123.

[xvi] Ibid, 131.

[xvii] Ibid, 50-51.

[xviii] Ibid, xviii.

[xix] Ibid, xix.

[xx] Ibid, 130.

[xxi] Ibid, 84.

[xxii] Ibid, 80.

[xxiii] Ibid, 83.

[xxiv] Ibid, 84.

[xxv] Ibid, 83.

[xxvi] Ibid, 169.

Evidence For Archetypes

EVIDENCE FOR ARCHETYPES can be divided into several different categories: (1) ‘associative evidence’, similar or associative theory which overtly supports archetypes or bears a resemblance to archetypal theory; (2) ‘scientific evidence’, where it is argued Jung’s method which is descriptive and phenomenological is not unscientific, and ‘archetypes’ are given theoretical support from the theory of other scientists; (3) ‘evidence from quantum physics, which is support from the theory of quantum physicists.

Complicating the issue of evidence for archetypes is that acceptable evidence is dependent on how archetypes are defined. Different theorists have defined archetypes in different ways. For example, while the leading Romanian and latterly American academic historian and philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) and James Hillman define archetypes in similar ways to Jung, there are also differences. Jung, a self-described empiricist, wanted a naturalistic theory of archetypes which had scientific credibility. Hillman would abandon the scientific approach to archetypes altogether and advocate instead that we see science from the viewpoint of archetypes. For Hillman, science itself is a sort of myth and fantasy of the soul.

Even within the archetypal theory of one thinker, most notably Jung, there can be many strains of thought which can appear contradictory. Jung, however, is acknowledged as the pre-eminent thinker on archetypes in the twentieth century – and it is precisely because his theory encompasses both modernist scientific perspectives and evidence from quantum science and postmodern and mystical perspectives that his thought is so compelling, evocative and complex.

Walter A. Shelburne philosophy professor and founding member of the Applied Philosophy Institute, California, has studied and examined the scientific and logical evidential parameters of Jung’s theory of archetypes in depth. He concludes:

“even though there are these many strains of Jung’s thought – a philosophical emphasis, a mythos emphasis, as well as a scientific emphasis – this is not to say that everything Jung said has to be evaluated from the critical standpoint of any one particular point of view. For…in spite of the confusion that Jung creates by working over his material from these methodologically divergent perspectives, a legitimately scientific perspective can nonetheless be reconstructed from his thought.”[i]

[i] Walter A. Shelburne, Mythos and Logos in the Thought of Carl Jung – The Theory of the Collective Unconscious in Scientific Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1988), 10.

Archetypes and Platonic Forms

‘ARCHETYPE’ IS GREEK in origin and dates from classical times.[i] Jung’s first use of the term archetype was in 1919 and Jung makes the point strongly that ‘archetype’ was synonymous with ‘Idea’ in Platonic usage. He consistently states that the term has precisely that pre-existent, a priori meaning that it had for Augustine and Plato.[ii] In particular Jung acknowledged his debt to Plato, describing archetypes as “active living dispositions, ideas in the Platonic sense, that preform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions”.[iii]

ARCHETYPES ARE TIMELESS, for Jung, as for Mircea Eliade. Eliade, like Jung, compares archetypes to the Platonic “forms that exist “on supraterrestrial planes”.[iv] But while there are striking similarities in Jung’s and Eliade’s understanding of archetype, there are also sharp divergences.

The whole thrust of Eliade’s ontology is towards escaping the profane time of history and maximising our consciousness of sacred mythic time of eternal archetypes. As Dudley points out: “The archetype has an exclusively positive and redemptive role in Eliade’s scheme of things. With Jung however, the case is different. For him the archetype can be both positive and negative, redemptive and destructive”.[v]

To become subsumed into the collective unconscious where archetypes reign, for Jung, is to lose oneself. The goal is a balance and connectedness between ego and archetypes, hence individuation which can occur through a dialectic between the individual ego and archetypes.[vi]

Despite their differences, Jung and Eliade’s understanding of archetypes is strikingly close. They staked their life’s works on the existence and understanding of archetypes. Both believed that humankind’s survival depends on developing consciousness of the archetypes.[vii]

Like archetypes themselves, the theory of archetypes, as Stevens points out, recurs in different guises at different times and places; indeed:

“the theory has been rediscovered and propounded in different terminologies by the ethologists (Lorenz’s innate releasing mechanisms), Gestalt psychologists (Wolfgang Kohler’s isomorphs), developmental psychologists (John Bowlby’s behavioral systems), biologists (Ernst Mayr’s open programs), anthropologists (Fox’s biogrammar), and psycholinguists (Naom Chomsky’s language acquisition device).”[viii]

THE ARCHETYPE POSSESSES A FUNDAMENTAL DUALITY: it is both psychic and nonpsychic. What is passed on from generation to generation is a structure – a characteristic patterning of matter and it is this ‘physic’ pattern which forms the replicable archetype of the species.   As Stevens describes it, the archetypal hypothesis proposes we possess innate neuropsychic centres which orchestrate the common behavioural characteristics and experiences of all human beings regardless of culture, race or creed. This is akin to Jean Piaget’s mental developmental stages, Fox’s idea of inbuilt programmes for learning, and H.F and M.K. Harlow’s theory that “social development depends on the motivation of a sequence of affectional systems”.[ix] Other theorists whose thinking has an affinity with the archetypal hypothesis and hence provide associative evidence include Kepler, Kant, Lorenz and Pauli. They have emphasized “inner ideas” or images which correspond with external events perceived through the senses.[x]

 


[i] Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self, 47.
[ii] See Guilford Dudley, ‘Jung and Eliade: A Difference of Opinion’, Psychological Perspectives, vol.10, Part 1 (1979), 41.
[iii] Anthony Stevens (1982) Archetype – A Natural  History of the Self,
39;  Cf. C.G. Jung, ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche’, 
Collected Works, 8, 154.
[iv] Dudley (1979) ‘Jung and Eliade: A Difference of Opinion’, 42.
[v] Ibid, 45.
[vi] Ibid, 46.
[vii] Ibid, 47.
[viii] Anthony Stevens, ‘Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Religion’,
Zygon, vol.21, no.1 (1986), 13.

[ix] Ibid, 12.
[x] Ibid, 19.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism.   Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam.    According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii]   In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987),  x.
[ii] Ibid, 207.
[iii] Ibid, 212.
[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge –The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.
[v] Ibid, 241.
[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.
[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand CountryAlmanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions ofThought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.
[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.
[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.
[xi] Ibid, 360.
[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.
[xiii] Ibid, xvii.[xiv] Lopez (1998)  Arctic Dreams, 274.

 

Spiritual Revolutionaries

THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION in the latter half of the twentieth century has embraced the new wave of secular spirituality. This has involved a challenge to, and a rebellion against, traditional patriarchal religions and of necessity a re-definition of what is essential in religion for women – a reconsideration of spirituality.

The roll-call perhaps begins with the coolly observant French academic and writer Simone de Beauvoir who, although not professing to be a feminist at the time of writing The Second Sex in the 1940s, has had a pioneering role in the challenge by feminist philosophy to the prevailing patriarchal ideologies of the twentieth century[i]. Then there was Merlin Stone who examined and dissected the archaeological evidence for the Goddess and the patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures’ suppression of women and their matriarchal religions[ii]. Stone was closely followed by Naomi Goldenberg, a psychologist of religion and feminist theologian who maintained that “When feminists succeed in changing the position of women in Christianity and Judaism, they will shake these religions at their roots.” [iii]

American academic Mary Daly is perhaps the most damning, challenging, radical and creative of the recent feminist theologians and philosophers. A former nun and a Professor of Theology at Boston College, her critique of the detrimental effects of patriarchal religion is chilling[iv]. More recently Muslim feminists, for example Irshad Manji (2003), have risked their lives by taking on fundamentalist patriarchal Islam.[v]

Feminist philosophers and theologians have confronted the authority of the dominant patriarchal monotheistic Western religious traditions and establishments head-on. They have realised that women’s spirituality and dignity have been plundered and defiled along with the natural world. Based on this they have searched out and created alternatives. For example, the association of postmodern theology with process theology, the ecological movement and the feminization of the divine, is pivotal in the work of ecofeminist theologian Carol P. Christ[vi] Postmodernist arguments are frequently used by feminists. For example, Ellen Leonard argues that no theology can claim universality and all theologies are political:

“Traditional Western theology is now seen as determined by dominant world powers and groups. The critique of this theology comes from the “new theologies” which argue that Western theology is culture-bound, church-centred, male-dominated, age-dominated, procapitalist, anticommunist, nonrevolutionary and overly theoretical.”[vii]

These feminist revolutionaries reject dualistic and hierarchical thinking which devalues women, body and nature.[viii] They demand a re-visioning of the divine and a new theology in the light of contemporary experience – especially woman’s experience.

For religious archetypes, icons and myths, feminists have harkened back to a pre-patriarchial era when the Goddess or Goddesses and polytheistic Gods were worshipped.[ix] Feminist theologians have gone inwards into the imagination to focus on the symbolic meaning of the Goddess, Goddesses and other Gods, allowing them to explore new patterns of spirituality.[x]

Like their foremothers of the matriarchial ‘pagan’ religions, feminist theologians have turned to Mother Earth and tried to formulate a spiritual search which is nature and earth-centred. Ecofeminists are at the forefront of the ecology and ecospirituality movements. They have challenged traditional philosophy and theology by advocating a holistic understanding and epistemology with recognition of the spiritual interconnectedness of all of creation and co-responsibility for our world.[xi] Ecofeminists have combined a critique of the destructiveness of patriarchal attitudes to nature and women, with an affirmation of a spiritual search which is nature-earth centred rather than anthropocentric. Ecotheologian and Catholic Priest, Thomas Berry argues that:

“The greatest support for the feminist, anti-patriarchal movement can be found in the ecological movement…What has become progressively clear is the association of the feminine issue with the ecological issue.”[xii]

 Ariel Salleh maintains that:

“Ecofeminism confronts not only social institutions and practices, but the language and logics by which Western patriarchy constructs its relation to nature. In doing so, it has already travelled a long way down the very same road that deep ecological opponents of anthropocentricism are looking for.”[xiii]

Ecospirituality

ECOSPIRITUALITY HAS BEEN ARGUED to be more important as a movement than any one of the great world religions. Ecospirituality is the experience of the Divine Presence or Divine Reality in the natural world.

This yearning for and returning to humankind’s first religious awakening is a recent re-recognition of a timeless truth – and on these terms it is a recent development in the history of spirituality. Ecospirituality, Gaia spirituality, Nature-earth spirituality or Nature-mysticism are all new terms for this recent development.

Wayne Teasdale is one who maintains that ecospirituality and the Green Movement have emerged out of the negative results of modern industrial society. The destruction of the natural world has reawakened a passion for wilderness consciousness and nature-mysticism which is really a sort of spiritual or inner illumination. “It is the ability to perceive the Presence of the Divine immanent in the natural world”; and this is, as Evelyn Underhill tells us, “an overpowering apprehension”.[xiv]

Teasdale concludes that ecospirituality is the most important development of the twentieth century, ranking it in significance to the discovery of the printing press and the Copernican Revolution. It brings a shift in paradigm, which brings with it a revolution in human consciousness. Teasdale maintains:

“Eco-spirituality is singularly more significant, as a movement, than any one of the great world religions, when regarded from the larger perspective of the earth process.”[xv]

 


[i] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (London: New English Library, 1970), 352.

[ii] Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (New York: Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976).

[iii] See Changing of the Gods – Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions (Boston:Beacon Press, 1979), 5.

[iv] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father –Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973);  Gyn/Ecology – The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978); Pure Lust – Elemental Feminist Philosophy (London: The Women’s Press, 1984).

[v] Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith (Canada: Random House,  2003).

[vi] Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-imagining the Divine in the World (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003 ).

[vii] Ellen Leonard, ‘Experience as a source for theology: A Canadian and feminist perspective’, Studies in Religion v.19, no.2 (1990), 146.

[viii] See Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women, New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975) and ‘Ecology and Human Liberation: A Conflict between the Theology of History and the Theology of Nature?’ in To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 57-70. See also Marsha Hewitt, ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, Studies in Religion v.20, no.3 (1991), 271.

[ix] See Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (1976); William G. Dever, ‘Women’s popular religion, suppressed in the Bible, now revealed by archaeology’, Biblical Archaeology Review, v.17, no.2 ( 1991), 64-65; Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974); – Myths, Legends and Cult Images (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); Charlene Spretnak, ed., The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within the Feminist Movement (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Press / Doubleday, 1982).

[x] Marsha Hewitt (1991) ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, 157.

[xi] See Sally Mcfague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987); Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women , New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975); Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); Charlene Spretnak, The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics (Santa Fe: N.M. Bear & Co, 1986); Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-Imagining the Divine in the World (2003).

[xii]  See Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988) ,160-161.

[xiii] Ariel Salleh, ‘The Ecofeminism/Deep Ecology Debate: A Reply to Patriarchal Reason’, Environmental Ethics v.14, no.3 (1992), 215.

[xiv] Wayne Teasdale, ‘Nature-Mysticism as the Basis of Eco-Spirituality’, Studies in Formative Spirituality, v.12, no.2 (1991), 218-219. Note: Teasdale refers to Evelyn Underhill’s   Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (New York: Dutton, 1961), 234.

[xv] Ibid, 230.

Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes

Landscape is a connector of the soul with Being.

– Belden C. Lane

Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire… the landscapes in which history unfolds are both real, that is, profound in their physical effects on mankind, and not real, but mere projections, artifacts of human perception.

– Barry Lopez

LANDSCAPES ARE imaginal and they are visionary.[i] They are both timeless and they are time-bound, hence particular spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes predominate in particular historical epochs.

GEOGRAPHERS HAVE FOR A LONG TIME understood the idea that our landscapes spring forth from personal and collective imagination.

However it is the postmodern geographers who place most importance on the role of the imagination in creating landscape. In part this is due to their understanding and receptivity to depth, analytical and archetypal psychology, where there has been a revival of interest in the image, the imagination and the imaginal. It is an old way of finding meaning and it is a theory of knowledge which has had a relatively recent revival in the twentieth century.

Seminal in the revival of this epistemology, or imaginal theory of knowledge and meaning in recent times are such thinkers as Jung and his theory of the collective unconscious; Bachelard, Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Sorbonne, who raised poetic imagination to a level equal in importance to scientific knowledge; Claude Levi-Strauss (1908-2009) anthropologist and ethnologist, regarded as the “father of modern anthropology”, who spoke of cultures which did not neglect the feminine guide of the imagination, the creative Sophia; Henry Corbin, with his translations of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic Mystics and the Mazdean, Shi’ite and Sufi mystics (thirteen centuries in which the imaginal has been the focal point); as well as the romantics, the surrealists and most recently postmodernists.

Gilbert Durand concludes that imagination gives “the possibility of experiencing the noumenal… the imaginal is the New World that allows the revival of this gnosis”.[ii]

It is however in the consideration of sacred landscapes and sacred places that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

[i] The term imaginal means relating to, or resembling an image (Cf. Collins English Dictionary, London (1979), 731). The term is used most notably by such thinkers as Henry Corbin and Gilbert Durand.

[ii] Gilbert Durand ‘Exploration of the Imaginal’, Spring (1971), 88.

A “Psychological Geography”

IN 1953, HENRY CORBIN argued for a psychological geography, a new line of study in which the “intention is to discover the psychological factors that come into play in the conformation given to a landscape”. Thus:

“Out of geographical studies, a new line of study, described as psychological geography, has developed in our day: The intention is to discover the psychological factors that come to play in the conformation given to a landscape. The phenomenological presupposition implicit in research of this kind is that the essential functions of the soul, the psyche, include the projection of a nature, a physis; conversely, each physical structure discloses the mode of psycho-spiritual activity that brings it into operation. In this sense, the categories of the sacredness “which possess the soul” can be recognized in the landscape with which it surrounds itself and in which it shapes its habitat, whether by projecting the vision on an ideal iconography, or by attempting to inscribe and reproduce a model of the vision on the actual earthly ground.”[i]

Corbin concludes: “This is why each of the hierophanies of our visionary geography offers an example of a case of psycho-geography unlike any other”.[ii]

We are defined by our landscapes. The categories of sacredness “which possess the soul” can be recognized in the archetypal landscape(s) with which it surrounds itself. This is the essence of the inner Sophianic Wisdom Archetype – within the Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

Perhaps no other postmodernist ecological writer, explorer of the psyche and lover of the natural world, gives a better lyrical working illustration of the Sophia Wisdom Archetype (Anima Mundi/World Soul and Mundus Imaginalis) – the inner landscape perception within the Postmodern Ecological Landscape in our time, than does Barry Lopez in this passage from Arctic Dreams:

“I bowed. I bowed to what knows no deliberating legislature or parliament, no religion, no competing theories of economics, an expression of allegiance with the mystery of life. I looked out over the Bering Sea and brought my hands folded to the breast of my parka and bowed from the waist deeply toward the north, that great strait filled with life, the ice and the water. I held the bow to the pale sulphur sky at the northern rim of the earth. I held the bow until my back ached, and my mind was emptied of its categories and designs, its plans and speculations. I bowed before the simple evidence of the moment in my life in a tangible place on the earth that was beautiful. When I stood I thought I glimpsed my own desire. The landscape and the animals were like something found at the end of a dream. The edges of the real landscape became one with the edges of something I had dreamed. But what I had dreamed was only a pattern, some beautiful pattern of light. The continuous work of the imagination, I thought, to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution.”[iii]

[i] Ibid, 30.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Lopez (1988) Arctic Dreams, 414.

A ‘Nonsense Concept’

WHILE MANY WESTERN THEOLOGIANS during the twentieth century had become uncomfortable with the concept of spirit and spirituality, Western theology was itself under increasing philosophical attack and siege. Spirituality, metaphysics and theology became ‘nonsense concepts’ with the advent of logical positivism, the philosophical school based on linguistic analysis in the 1920s and 1930s. Logical positivism rejected metaphysical speculation and held that the only meaningful statements are those that are analytic or can be tested empirically. Based on linguistic analysis (to clarify the meanings of statements and questions) and on demands for criteria and procedures of empirical verification (for establishing at least in-principle truth or falsity of statements, by observation or experiment), logical positivism was essentially a systematic attack on metaphysics by demanding observations for conferring meaning. Metaphysics was rejected as nonsense.

In the modern world of the twentieth century it often seemed that ‘spirituality’ was on very tenuous ground as regards meaning. Evans (1993) has argued that the skeptical contemporary world-view regarding spirituality is to some extent in all of us: “It is part of the largely unconscious mind-set of our culture”.[i]

‘Secular’ Postmodern Spirituality

HOWEVER, UNEXPECTEDLY spirituality has returned in a ‘secular’ postmodern age. While ‘spirituality’ cannot be proved as such, the concepts of ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ have not been disproved, nor have they been successfully rendered nonsense concepts.

In the postmodern era, the positivists and the sceptics brandishing scientism, have themselves come in for criticism. The Enlightenment model and modernist science with its off-shoot, technology, has been discredited as contributing to the degradation of the environment and threatening the planet. There is a new scepticism which questions whether scientism and its philosophical axioms are the best epistemological route forward, let alone the planet’s saviour. The public is increasingly turning against a purist science and technology without debate on values, for example unease over biogenetic engineering. In the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century, positivism and scientism have been found wanting by many.

One can not live by positivism and scientism – at best they are tools for clarifying meaning, but are not the meaning itself. Spirituality, it would seem, has escaped and we are still searching for meaning. New Zealand botanist and ecologist, Philip Simpson illustrates this with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, which he argues:

“…provides an ethical or spiritual dimension to human life that is ecocentric rather than egocentric. Some see the living Earth concept in mystical terms. There is no doubt that a competitive model of Earth is damaging to our relationship to nature, and science is strangely lacking in providing meaning.”[ii]

Spiritual reality is being recognised, despite a lack of proof; while science is found to be lacking in meaning, even by some scientists. However the question of what ‘spirituality’ is, or how one defines it, remains.

One thing is certain however, ‘spirituality’ has become secularised. Jon Alexander maintains that the trend to use the word spirituality in an experiential and generic sense appeals to our irenic age but it also presents some theological difficulties: “Today we encounter the word spirituality so frequently in our reading and conversation that it is surprising to learn that its use is a recent phenomenon.”[iii]

John Elias argues that the 1960s began with the announcement that God was dead and it seemed that the United States had finally become a secular society – but by the 1970s some scholars were already talking about the return of the sacred and others were maintaining that the sacred had never left, except among certain social scientists. Elias maintains certain words are now heard that had virtually passed from usage, even in religious circles:

“While the word religious remained in use, the words spiritual and spirituality were rarely uttered during the decades when the focus was on the secularization of society and its institutions. Today these words are used without apology in both religious and non-religious circles. Social scientists use the term spiritual or sacred as a category to explain understandings of selfhood and human striving. Religionists use the words to highlight the highly personal elements of one’s religious life.”[iv]

Whereas in earlier centuries spirituality had been equated with religion, now as Walter Principe points out, there were many aspects of religion which were less related to the spiritual ideal and some which were even opposed to it.[v] Van Ness argues that while Nietzsche was perhaps the most explicit in charting an irreligious spiritual path, spirituality born of radical scepticism is also found in the naturalistic and nondogmatic views of some Oriental sages.

A SPIRITUAL LIFE in a “world come of age” was notably also the argument of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian executed by the Nazis for his part in a conspiracy to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was very impressed by his non-religious co-conspirators who were also executed and while he “characteristically identified spiritual life in theological terms, as life shaped by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, his last writings place an emphasis on wholeness and vitality”, which are the “hallmarks of a more general rendering of the spiritual dimension of human existence.”[vi]

Van Ness states that in Bonhoeffer’s last writings “The positive evaluation of the secular world begun in the Ethics was even more firmly stated in the idiom of “the world come of age”. Bonhoeffer argued that “God is increasingly being pushed out of a world that has come of age, out of the spheres of our knowledge and life, and that since Kant he has been relegated to a realm beyond the world of experience.” [vii]

If God was increasingly being pushed out of a world come of age as Bonhoeffer argued – Bonhoeffer’s relation to the philosophy of Nietzsche is complex. However in his prison theological deliberations he seemed to move beyond Barth’s dialectical appreciation of Nietzsche to a “closer embrace of a religionless or secular spirituality such as was championed by the author of Thus Spake Zarathustra”.[viii] Van Ness states that from “Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard and Barth also, Bonhoeffer learned that religion, including the Christian religion, was part of what an authentically spiritual life must criticize and move beyond.”[ix]

Given the many compromises of historical Christianity, some measure of worldliness and freedom to criticise was indispensable to a profound spiritual life. Both Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer opposed tyranny in both its secular and religious forms and both recognised the importance of spiritual discipline – for Nietzsche it was solitude and for Bonhoeffer it was silence. Both have a simplicity which confounds them being classified as specifically religious or irreligious.[x] Thus, the authentic spiritual life had to move beyond the dogma of monotheistic and often fundamentalist patriarchal religions in the West.

Spiritual Revolutionaries

THE FEMINIST REVOLUTION in the latter half of the twentieth century has embraced the new wave of secular spirituality. This has involved a challenge to, and a rebellion against, traditional patriarchal religions and of necessity a re-definition of what is essential in religion for women – a reconsideration of spirituality.

The roll-call perhaps begins with the coolly observant French academic and writer Simone de Beauvoir who, although not professing to be a feminist at the time of writing The Second Sex in the 1940s, has had a pioneering role in the challenge by feminist philosophy to the prevailing patriarchal ideologies of the twentieth century[xi]. Then there was Merlin Stone who examined and dissected the archaeological evidence for the Goddess and the patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures’ suppression of women and their matriarchal religions[xii]. Stone was closely followed by Naomi Goldenberg, a psychologist of religion and feminist theologian who maintained that “When feminists succeed in changing the position of women in Christianity and Judaism, they will shake these religions at their roots.” [xiii]

American academic Mary Daly is perhaps the most damning, challenging, radical and creative of the recent feminist theologians and philosophers. A former nun and a Professor of Theology at Boston College, her critique of the detrimental effects of patriarchal religion is chilling[xiv]. More recently Muslim feminists, for example Irshad Manji (2003), have risked their lives by taking on fundamentalist patriarchal Islam.[xv]

Feminist philosophers and theologians have confronted the authority of the dominant patriarchal monotheistic Western religious traditions and establishments head-on. They have realised that women’s spirituality and dignity have been plundered and defiled along with the natural world. Based on this they have searched out and created alternatives. For example, the association of postmodern theology with process theology, the ecological movement and the feminization of the divine, is pivotal in the work of ecofeminist theologian Carol P. Christ[xvi] Postmodernist arguments are frequently used by feminists. For example, Ellen Leonard argues that no theology can claim universality and all theologies are political:

“Traditional Western theology is now seen as determined by dominant world powers and groups. The critique of this theology comes from the “new theologies” which argue that Western theology is culture-bound, church-centred, male-dominated, age-dominated, procapitalist, anticommunist, nonrevolutionary and overly theoretical.”[xvii]

These feminist revolutionaries reject dualistic and hierarchical thinking which devalues women, body and nature.[xviii] They demand a re-visioning of the divine and a new theology in the light of contemporary experience – especially woman’s experience.

For religious archetypes, icons and myths, feminists have harkened back to a pre-patriarchial era when the Goddess or Goddesses and polytheistic Gods were worshipped.[xix] Feminist theologians have gone inwards into the imagination to focus on the symbolic meaning of the Goddess, Goddesses and other Gods, allowing them to explore new patterns of spirituality.[xx]

Like their foremothers of the matriarchial ‘pagan’ religions, feminist theologians have turned to Mother Earth and tried to formulate a spiritual search which is nature and earth-centred. Ecofeminists are at the forefront of the ecology and ecospirituality movements. They have challenged traditional philosophy and theology by advocating a holistic understanding and epistemology with recognition of the spiritual interconnectedness of all of creation and co-responsibility for our world.[xxi] Ecofeminists have combined a critique of the destructiveness of patriarchal attitudes to nature and women, with an affirmation of a spiritual search which is nature-earth centred rather than anthropocentric. Ecotheologian and Catholic Priest, Thomas Berry argues that:

“The greatest support for the feminist, anti-patriarchal movement can be found in the ecological movement…What has become progressively clear is the association of the feminine issue with the ecological issue.”[xxii]

Ariel Salleh maintains that:

“Ecofeminism confronts not only social institutions and practices, but the language and logics by which Western patriarchy constructs its relation to nature. In doing so, it has already travelled a long way down the very same road that deep ecological opponents of anthropocentricism are looking for.”[xxiii]

[i] Donald Evans (1993) Spirituality and Human Nature, 102.

[ii] Philip Simpson interview, ‘Exploring the Gaia Hypothesis’ in Nga Kaitiaki, no. 21. August/ September (1989), 10.

[iii] Jon Alexander (1980) ‘What Do Recent Writers Mean by Spirituality?’, 247.

[iv] John L. Elias (1991) ‘The Return of Spirituality: Contrasting Interpretations’, 457.

[v] Cf. Walter Principe (1983) ‘Toward Defining Spirituality’, 139.

[vi] Peter H. Van Ness (1991) ‘Bonhoeffer, Nietzsche and Secular Spirituality’, 331.

[vii] See Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, trans. Reginald Fuller et al, ed. Eberhard Bethge, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1972), 341. Note: Nevertheless,“God is the beyond in the midst of our life”, 282.

[viii] Ibid, 337.

[ix] Ibid, 338.

[x] Ibid, 339.

[xi] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (London: New English Library, 1970), 352.

[xii] Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (New York: Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976).

[xiii] See Changing of the Gods – Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions (Boston:Beacon Press, 1979), 5.

[xiv] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father –Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973); Gyn/Ecology – The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978); Pure Lust – Elemental Feminist Philosophy (London: The Women’s Press, 1984).

[xv] Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith (Canada: Random House, 2003).

[xvi] Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-imagining the Divine in the World (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003 ).

[xvii] Ellen Leonard, ‘Experience as a source for theology: A Canadian and feminist perspective’, Studies in Religion v.19, no.2 (1990), 146.

[xviii] See Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women, New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975) and ‘Ecology and Human Liberation: A Conflict between the Theology of History and the Theology of Nature?’ in To Change the World: Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 57-70. See also Marsha Hewitt, ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, Studies in Religion v.20, no.3 (1991), 271.

[xix] See Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (1976); William G. Dever, ‘Women’s popular religion, suppressed in the Bible, now revealed by archaeology’, Biblical Archaeology Review, v.17, no.2 ( 1991), 64-65; Marija Gimbutas, The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974); – Myths, Legends and Cult Images (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974); Charlene Spretnak, ed., The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power Within the Feminist Movement (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Press / Doubleday, 1982).

[xx] Marsha Hewitt (1991) ‘Women, Nature and Power; Emancipatory Themes in Critical Theory and Feminist Theology’, 157.

[xxi] See Sally Mcfague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987); Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Women , New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975); Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: the Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper & Row, 1978); Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); Charlene Spretnak, The Spiritual Dimension of Green Politics (Santa Fe: N.M. Bear & Co, 1986); Carol P. Christ, She Who Changes – Re-Imagining the Divine in the World (2003).

[xxii] See Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1988) ,160-161.

[xxiii] Ariel Salleh, ‘The Ecofeminism/Deep Ecology Debate: A Reply to Patriarchal Reason’, Environmental Ethics v.14, no.3 (1992), 215.

Setting the Climate

POSTMODERNISM SETS THE SCENE for an archetypal analysis of landscape. For this reason it is worth looking briefly at postmodernism and postmodern theology.

David Harvey defined postmodernity as the situation in which the world finds itself after the breakdown of the Enlightenment project. Modernity lasted from the latter part of the eighteenth century until well into the twentieth and it was aimed at getting all the world’s diverse peoples to see things the same way, that is, the rational way.[i]

Other writers on postmodernism have expressed similar views to Harvey. Kevin Vanhoozer, for example, notes that postmodernists reject the epistemological foundationalism of reason: “They do not reject ‘reason’ but ‘Reason’. They deny the notion of a universal rationality; reason is rather a contextual and relative affair. What counts as rational is relative to the prevailing narrative in a society or institution”.[ii]

Postmodernism calls into question ‘foundationalism’ and ‘methodology’. It is the result of the repeated failure of modernity to establish a secure foundation and a secure method built on this foundation.[iii] “Classical foundationalism” and “rigorous method” are characterized by “objectivism”; which as Richard Bernstein argues, “is the basic conviction that there is or must be some permanent ahistorical matrix or framework to which we can ultimately appeal in determining the nature of rationality, knowledge, truth, reality, goodness, or rightness”.[iv]

The theory of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is regarded as an important precursor of postmodernism. Nietzsche:

“announces the death of modernity’s god. In doing this his work expresses both the final working out of modernity’s project and a postmodernism that will gather pace to become, finally, a culturally dominant force… With the death of God Nietzsche announces the overcoming of metaphysics, for he announces that there is no foundation, no ground, no origin that ultimately is not governed by a perspective, i.e., we, as human beings, desire and require it.”[v]

Similarly, the ideology of modernism was systematically challenged by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), a seminal, if not the earliest, advocate of postmodernism – “Although the term ‘postmodern’ was not used by Whitehead himself, the notion is implicit in his 1925 book Science and the Modern World”.[vi]

Postmodern Quantum Physics

QUANTUM PHYSICS AND POSTMODERNISM are inextricably linked as many philosophers since Whitehead have recognised. Both pose revolutionary challenges to traditional epistemologies, whether they be cultural, religious or scientific. The implications of quantum physics have given impetus to postmodern challenges to modernist epistemologies.[vii]

For physicist David Bohm a “postmodern world” and a “postmodern science” are not only feasible and logically consistent but amount to a revolution in world view and an imperative for survival.[viii] This is not to negate the successes and positive advances made by the modernist world view. As Bohm points out, the mechanistic reductionist program still provides the motivation of most scientific enterprise and has been very successful in certain areas, for example genetic engineering in medicine; but it is not the whole picture and, in fact, mechanistic reductionism has been “so successful that it threatens our very existence as well as to produce all sorts of other dangers”.[ix]

Theologian David Ray Griffin reinforces this view of constructive postmodernism as not being an anti-modernism: “The term postmodern, however, by contrast with premodern, emphasizes that the modern world has produced unparalleled advances that must not be lost in a general revulsion against its negative features”.[x] And postmodern science, according to Bohm “should not separate matter and consciousness and should therefore not separate facts, meaning and value”.[xi] Postmodern epistemology is situational, contextual, perception bound and composed of multiple realities. Postmodernism is inherently pluralistic. As Walter Anderson states:

“Seeing truth as made, not found – seeing reality as socially constructed – doesn’t mean deciding there is nothing “out there”. It means understanding that all our stories about what’s out there – all our scientific facts, our religious teachings, our society’s beliefs, even our personal perceptions – are the products of a highly creative interaction between human minds and the cosmos.”[xii]

[i] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change
(Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 27.

[ii] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Theology and the Condition of Postmodernity: A Report on Knowledge of God’ in: Kevin J. Vanhoozer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 10.

[iii] Cf. Dan R. Stiver, ‘Theological Method’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, (Cambridge University Press, 2003),170-173.

[iv] Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 8.

[v] Graham Ward (ed.), The Postmodern God – A Theological Reader (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), xxix.

[vi] David Ray Griffin, ‘Reconstructive Theology’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (2003), 92.

[vii] Timothy E. Eastman and Hank Keeton (eds.), Physics and Whitehead: Quantum, Process and Experience, SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought (State University of New York, 2004), 260.

[viii] David Bohm, ‘Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World’ in: David Ray Griffin, ed., The Re-enchantment of Science (State University of New York Press, 1988), 57-68.

[ix] Ibid, 61.

[x] Griffin (1988) The Re-enchantment of Science, x-xi.

[xi] Bohm (1988) ‘Postmodern Science and a Postmodern World’, 60.

[xii] Walter Truett Anderson(ed.),The Fontana Postmodern Reader (London:Fontana Press, 1966), 8.