Postmodern Spirituality

THE RENAISSANCE OF ‘SPIRITUALITY’ has been associated with postmodernism.

“Postmodernity as spiritual condition” is argued by Vanhoozer. The condition of postmodernity “is neither simply philosophical nor simply socio-political, but spiritual, a condition in which belief and behavior come together in the shape of an embodied spirit”.[i]

Ecofeminist, postmodern theologian Carol P. Christ argues that together with “many spiritual feminists, ecofeminists, ecologists, antinuclear activists, and others” she shares “the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is at root spiritual”.[ii]

Frederick Mark Gedlicks argues that for “religious pluralism to flourish in a postmodern era, the predominant expression of belief must be spiritual, rather than fundamentalist”.[iii] He distinguishes fundamentalism, metanarratives, discrimination and government power from postmodernism, religious liberty, nondiscrimination, government absence and spirituality. That the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘postmodernism’ have both been linked in De Paul Law Review (2005), a secular law journal dealing with the laws of state and society, would indicate perhaps that both concepts have now ‘come of age’.

GORDON D. KAUFMAN (1925-2011), the renowned American liberal theologian whose research, writing and teachings had a profound influence on constructive and systematic theology – gives an early working example of postmodern spiritual theology. He places an emphasis on mystery, imagination, and imaginal construction. Kaufman maintains theology is, and always has been, an activity of “imaginative construction” by persons attempting to put together as comprehensive and coherent a picture as they could of humanity in the world under God.[iv]

For Kaufman theology as “imaginative construction” contrasts with the conventional conceptions of theology whereby the work of theologians is “understood to consist largely in exposition of religious doctrine or dogma (derived from the Bible and other authoritative sources)”.[v] Rather than concentrating on traditional doctrines, dogmas and their systematic presentation in a new historical situation, Kaufman places emphasis on imaginative construction and the powers of the human imagination: ‘symbolic perspective’ and plurality.

Hence Christianity is just one of a plurality of world views. He stresses de-emphasizing traditional doctrines in new historical situations, and the de-emphasis of the importance of literal historicity. All this exemplifies a postmodernist theological perspective.[vi]

[i] Vanhoozer(2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 23.

[ii] Carol P. Christ, ‘Rethinking Theology and Nature’, in: Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (eds.), Weaving the Visions – New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (Harper: San Francisco, 1989), 314.

[iii] Frederick Mark Gedicks, ‘Spirituality, Fundamentalism, Liberty: Religion at the End of Modernity’, De Paul Law Review, (2005), Abstract. See ‘Social Science Network’: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm? abstract id=634262.

[iv] Gordon D. Kaufman, In the Face of Mystery – A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), ix.

[v] Ibid, 40.

[vi] Cf. Sheila Davaney (ed.), Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

Revolutionising Religion

POSTMODERNISM HAS IMPACTED on religion. While modernist concerns with falsifiability have undermined, some would say fatally, orthodox religions; the impact of the postmodern pluralist spirituality challenge to fundamentalism is particularly devastating.

Vanhoozer distinguishes ‘modern theology’ from ‘postmodern theology’ and describes the situation of theology within postmodernism. Modern theology is situated within the Enlightenment critical and scientific narrative, while postmodernity marks both the end of theology and new beginnings. Postmodernity lets the particulars speak for themselves without having to conform to prevailing ideology or political system.[i]

Arguably the most appropriate methodologies for postmodern discourse are phenomenology, existentialism and hermeneutics.

For example, Dan Stiver talking about theological method in particular, emphasizes hermeneutics in postmodern theology; the “intertextual” and “intratextual nature of postmodern theology; the pluralistic spirit and the situated nature of the theologian. Contrary to those who would deny a distinction between modernist theology and postmodern theology, Stiver argues that theology in modernity relied largely on a foundationalist paradigm. The basis for theology had to be “nailed down” first.[ii]
However, it was largely on the defensive because theology could hardly measure up to public standards for rigorous certainty and unchallengeable methods.

Postmodern Spirituality

THE RENAISSANCE OF ‘SPIRITUALITY’ has been associated with postmodernism.

“Postmodernity as spiritual condition” is argued by Vanhoozer. The condition of postmodernity “is neither simply philosophical nor simply socio-political, but spiritual, a condition in which belief and behavior come together in the shape of an embodied spirit”.[iii]

Ecofeminist, postmodern theologian Carol P. Christ argues that together with “many spiritual feminists, ecofeminists, ecologists, antinuclear activists, and others” she shares “the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is at root spiritual”.[iv]

Frederick Mark Gedlicks argues that for “religious pluralism to flourish in a postmodern era, the predominant expression of belief must be spiritual, rather than fundamentalist”.[v]
He distinguishes fundamentalism, metanarratives, discrimination and government power from postmodernism, religious liberty, nondiscrimination, government absence and spirituality. That the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘postmodernism’ have both been linked in De Paul Law Review (2005), a secular law journal dealing with the laws of state and society, would indicate perhaps that both concepts have now ‘come of age’.

GORDON D. KAUFMAN (1925-2011), the renowned American liberal theologian whose research, writing and teachings had a profound influence on constructive and systematic theology – gives an early working example of postmodern spiritual theology. He places an emphasis on mystery, imagination, and imaginal construction. Kaufman maintains theology is, and always has been, an activity of “imaginative construction” by persons attempting to put together as comprehensive and coherent a picture as they could of humanity in the world under God.[vi]

For Kaufman theology as “imaginative construction” contrasts with the conventional conceptions of theology whereby the work of theologians is “understood to consist largely in exposition of religious doctrine or dogma (derived from the Bible and other authoritative sources)”.[vii]
Rather than concentrating on traditional doctrines, dogmas and their systematic presentation in a new historical situation, Kaufman places emphasis on imaginative construction and the powers of the human imagination: ‘symbolic perspective’ and plurality.

Hence Christianity is just one of a plurality of world views. He stresses de-emphasizing traditional doctrines in new historical situations, and the de-emphasis of the importance of literal historicity. All this exemplifies a postmodernist theological perspective.[viii]

[i] Vanhoozer (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, xiii-xiv.

[ii] Dan R. Stiver (2003) ‘Theological Method’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 172-179.

[iii] Vanhoozer(2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 23.

[iv] Carol P. Christ, ‘Rethinking Theology and Nature’, in: Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (eds.), Weaving the Visions – New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (Harper: San Francisco, 1989), 314.

[v] Frederick Mark Gedicks, ‘Spirituality, Fundamentalism, Liberty: Religion at the End of Modernity’, De Paul Law Review, (2005), Abstract. See ‘Social Science Network’: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm? abstract id=634262.

[vi] Gordon D. Kaufman, In the Face of Mystery – A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), ix.

[vii] Ibid, 40.

[viii] Cf. Sheila Davaney (ed.), Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

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.

Trickster

“Technology is neither devil nor an angel. But neither is it simply a “tool” a neutral extension of some rock-solid human nature. Technology is a trickster…

[The Trickster] Hermes became agoraios, “he of the agora,” the patron saint of merchants, middlemen, and the service industry, while the god’s epithet “tricky” came to mean “good for securing profit”. “
– Erik Davis

“Freely developing technology has always been an historical wild card and a potentially destabilizing element. Free markets and technologies do not necessarily produce a stable, predictable social order, but they do promote individual liberty.”
– Frederich R. Lynch

“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 being whose 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.

Imaginal-Visionary Landscapes

Landscape is a connector of the soul with Being.
– Belden C. Lane

Our perceptions are colored by preconception and desire… 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.

Sophia Geography

Sophia rules the eighth clime, the archetypal world of images, the world in which the forms of our thoughts and desires, of our presentiments and of our behavior and all works accomplished on earth subsist.

– C.G. Jung

[U]ltimately what we call physics and physical is but a reflection of the world of the Soul; there is no pure physics, but always the physics of some definite psychic activity.

The earth is then a vision, and geography a visionary geography… the categories of the sacredness “which possesses the soul” can be recognised 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.

– Henry Corbin

A Hymn to Sophia

IN THIS CHAPTER I explore, however tentatively and inadequately, the Sophianic inner landscape – the Imaginal, the Mundus Imaginalis, Sophianic harmonic perception or Ta’wil, and the Sophianic visionary geography of the soul.[i] In the Postmodern Ecological Landscape and under the Sophia Wisdom Archetype we become more aware of the imagination in creating landscape. The inner landscape becomes as important as the outer landscape. As Lopez observes,

“to inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape … is to provoke thoughts about one’s own interior landscape, and the familiar landscapes of memory. The land urges us to come around to an understanding of ourselves”.[ii]

Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that

“For Lopez the landscape we imagine is also that other that exists beyond and outside of human language and that shapes human language and experience…” [iii]

Postmodern ecological writers indicate, often implicitly rather than explicitly, that there is a vital interaction between inner landscapes, imagination and outer landscapes.

In many cases it is the outer landscape which stimulates our imagination and creates the realisation of a deeper inner wisdom and inner Being. In other cases, it would seem that it is the inner landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs that creates the outer landscapes of our Being-in-the-world.

 


[i] Note: It is impossible here to do justice to the concepts of the Imaginal, Mundus Imaginalis and Ta’wil as is evidenced by the complexity and life-time’s work on translations and interpretation by Henry Corbin. At most, it is possible here only to give a very superficial indication and generalised view of some of the main themes, without differentiating them and sourcing them in detail to their particular mystical strands and esoteric historical originations.

[ii] Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams – Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape (London: The Harville Press, 1998), 247.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 40.

Sophia’s Return

“…the Sophianic form of Mazdean devotion to the Angel of the Earth ultimately tends to cause the opening up in consciousness of that archetypal Image which depth psychology calls Anima, and which is the secret presence of the Eternal feminine in men.”

– Henri Corbin

“The Goddess is now returning. Denied and suppressed for thousands of years of masculine domination, she comes at a time of dire need… Mother Earth herself has been pressed to the limits of her endurance.”

– Edward C. Whitmont

AS IF IN PRECOGNITION of his life’s work, Henry Corbin wrote this haunting meditation in 1932, at the edge of Lake Siljan in Sweden, when he was 29 years old. Corbin called it Theology by the Lakeside.

“Everything is but revelation; there can only be re-velation. But revelation comes from the Spirit, and there is no knowledge of the Spirit. It will soon be dusk, but for now the clouds are still clear, the pines are not yet darkened, for the lake brightens them into transparency. And everything is green with a green that would be richer than if pulling all the organ stops in recital. It must be heard seated, very close to the Earth, arms crossed, eyes closed, pretending to sleep. For it is not necessary to strut about like a conqueror and want to give a name to things, to everything; it is they who will tell you who they are, if you listen, yielding like a lover; for suddenly for you, in the untroubled peace of this forest of the North, the Earth has come to Thou, visible as an Angel that would perhaps be a woman, and in this apparition, this greatly green and thronging solitude, yes, the Angel too is robed in green, the green of the dusk, of silence and of truth. Then there is in you all the sweetness that is present in the surrender to an embrace that triumphs over you. Earth, Angel, Woman, all of this in a single thing that I adore and that is in this forest. Dusk on the lake, my Annunciation.”[i]

[i] Henry Corbin, ‘Theologie au bord du lac’, in Christian Jambet, ed. Henry Corbin. Paris: Cahier del, Herne no. 39 (1981), 62.