As the strongest, clearest manifestation of the Holy Spirit might be found in some aspects of Taoist theory and practice, insights about such existential encounters by earlier, even, perhaps especially, primordial peoples also have value for latter day secular, scientific or religious seekers after the ‘really real.’ In this vein, the most practical appreciation of nature might be found among Animists and Shamans. The Animist approach has been successful for at least 40,000 years. (To say it was just a feral level of human evolution fits too conveniently into some aspects of evolutionary—religious and secular–theory with many political, sectarian and economic ramifications.) Shamanistic Animism shares directly the adventure of the gods of nature, the archetypes of nature. The depth of their response needs to be considered also as a choice with many cultural and ecological benefits.
Even the Old Testament regards nature as quasi-divine, in the sense that it is like the judgment of God, it does not lie. It is always true to its own nature. (*See Note #2.) My personal exploration of these themes, from sex magic—which in this discussion is more a biological or psychic concern than a moral or culturally flagged issue–to ecology, can be found in LETTER TO A BISHOP (NEPSIS Table of Contents, Section II). It is under the topical headings of nature mysticism–Taoist, Buddhist and Christian; Shamanism/Animism and the annuls of ecology, that the relationship of nature and religion is critically explored in NEPSIS. My suspicion is, however, that it is in the consideration of the ‘psyche of nature’—genius locus, genius mundus–in relationship with our own perceptive filters and projections that the resolution to the high anxiety of our current ecological and political crisis lays. See especially, the Stonehenge/Belloch episode in LETTER TO A BISHOP, “Memo to a Bishop,” the novels in the fiction section, as well as “Eagle Rock,” and HOW DIONYSIUS SAVED HIS MOTHER FROM HELL: Book III in NEPSIS, Section III.
As part of the ‘mechanism’ of nature, there might be salvific, psychic, (and diabolic), even personal qualities inherent in the matrix of the world. How ‘the land’ is used or exploited is a point of contention here. If ‘the land’ and other natural resources have sacred or personal qualities, then current on-going development must be interrupted. Resistance to such a re-direction in the human project is overwhelming and is at the heart of contemporary conflict. This is treated in the “Ice Age” paintings, #77-75, painting #62 , “The Achekale, A White Castle” and Chapters 8 and 9, Part I of the LETTER TO A BISHOP among other venues.
‘Poison and Progress’ is included with the such themes developed throughout this work with evocative vehicles like the hallucinogenic properties found in the alkaloids of Black Widow Spider venom, among many. As this project explores elements and powers to be engaged within the parameters of human perception, these themes suggest that a new theory of the psyche might be needed, or simply an in-depth reconsideration of religion and science, Nature and the Spirit.
The primal format one finds in a study of shamanism usually divides the subject into two parts: Initiation and Practice. I believe that format still provides the best organization for the topics of interest here. In fact, most of the material here should fall under the heading of ‘initiation.’ There are also depicted here the beginnings of a ‘practice’ that at once describes actual events as well as creating a liturgical metaphor for the wide spectrum of human activity, history and identity
Nature and religion finds its first encounter placed somewhere in the Neolithic age, perhaps earlier. The primordial genius of animism and shamanism characterized interaction between this material world and the ‘other’ one. From then until about 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and cities, religions ran with the gods of nature. Imagination was enthused by the potent energies of earth, animal, plants, stone, soil and spirit. Place(s) had ‘power’ and the stars worked their subtle rhythms and influence from afar.
Nepsis, while rooted in an ancient concept—really a vast corpus of the most advanced perceptual reference, but less that 2000 years extant–is a project for me that explores religious initiation into various ‘modes of access’ to nearly ineffable, but salient ‘states of consciousness.’ These ‘modes of access’ all share a worldview that sees nature as infused with divine presence, or at least semi-divine existence. That is, it never lies. It is never false. The Old Testament is certainly within this vale, with nature often called upon to witness human deeds as an unbiased judge.* (See Note #2.) The academic aspects of this exploration have included Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, certain aspects of the Vedic epiphany, Shamanism, Animism, Buddhist Tantra, and some active elements of Taoism. Perhaps, most importantly, an additional vehicle of exploration has been the revealing, creative processes of art; i.e., the researcher’s own art studies, paintings, sculpture, poetry and prose, both fiction and non-fiction in a modernist and post-modernist vein. These were worked in addition to essays of critical evaluation.
…It is from a combination of critical thought and integrative revelations that result from artistic and religious practice—arduous pilgrimage in the wilderness and religious culture(s) of the world–that the bias of the seeker is ‘seen through’ sufficiently to perceive a glimmer of the liberation/identity/salvation promised by categories of human insight represented in Nepsis. If for no other good reason, one is introduced to the agent whose activity justifies and vitalizes perennial religious enthusiasm still extant now and fervent through the history of self-conscious consciousness–Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
This interdisciplinary methodology of art making and theory, critical analysis, as well as, long courted religious experience and practice, seemed necessary to examine the otherwise ineffable and pervasive nature of the subject. This subject engages all of the agencies of human perception and judgment. This is a subject that seems to revel in ritual and liturgy, art and the most gestalt experiential religious gestures: Simple compassion… Brave, solitary missions… Relentless aspirations to Goodness, Beauty and Truth(s)… Catharsis, kenosis and a nearly tangible sense of the divine presence in the natural world. This subject seems to resist the shackles of merely conceptual, critical treatment, or superfluous, popular devotions. But it exalts in a clear, incisive, poetic depiction of wisdom and affection.
Given the vast, universal history of these subtle webs of sensation and insight, there is little wonder that over thirty years has gone by in this research. At that, it is only certain agents at the beginnings of religious initiation that are displayed in this introductory presentation. Yet, the slightest brush against even these entities have been described through the ages as brilliance, beauty, bliss, peace–the creation of the universe itself. Whole cultures have been developed under the influence of these ‘brushes with death.’ Complex civilizations yearning for ‘return to the Origin’, have been required to perceive and carry forward the necessity, profundity and meaning of these insights.
“Memo to a Bishop” in Nepsis, Section III states: “To deny the sacred nature of the world, is like denying the humanity of slaves, a common tactic that makes exploitation possible.” As with the medicinal cures that can be discovered in a rainforest, or the truths and humility that can be revealed in a wilderness, it might be worth our while to attend to the states of awareness explored in Nepsis—before these, as well, are ‘paved over,’ or ‘developed,’ or rather just lost, for what little market-driven souls can bear.
I have discovered enough in this project for my own satisfaction, but cannot bear even this ‘glimpse at the face of God’ alone, but only in concert with the full body of being. By what can be deduced by contemporary environmental standards, a reconsideration of our relationship with nature is not only in order, but is at the heart of the survival of our biosphere. Nepsis attempts exactly such a reconsideration of spirit in nature–of the world and human person.
|Previous Chapter: Art and Religion||Next Chapter: Spirit and the Flesh|