NATURE ALIVE

by contemplativeinquiry

“A cry went through late antiquity: ‘Great Pan is dead!’. Plutarch reported it in his On the failure of the oracles, yet the saying has itself become oracular, meaning many things to many people in many ages. One thing was announced: nature had become deprived of its creative voice. It was no longer an independent voice of generativity. What had had soul, lost it: or lost was the psychic connection with nature.

“With Pan dead, so to was Echo; we could no longer capture consciousness through reflecting within our instincts. They had lost their light and fell easily into asceticism, following sheepishly without instinctual rebellion their new shepherd, Christ, with his new means of management. Nature no longer spoke to us – or we could no longer hear. The person of Pan the mediator, like an ether who invisibly enveloped all natural things with personal meaning, with brightness, had vanished. Stones became only stones – trees, trees; things, places and animals no longer were this god or that, but became ‘symbols’, or were said to ‘belong’ to one god or another.

“When Pan is alive then nature is too and it is filled with gods, so that the owl’s hoot is Athena and the mollusc on the shore is Aphrodite. These bits of nature are not merely attributes or belongings. They are gods in their biological forms. And where better to find the gods than in the things, places and animals that they inhabit, and how better to participate in them through their concrete, natural presentations. Whatever was eaten, smelled, walked upon or watched, all were sensuous presences of archetypal significance.” (1)

The above is an extract from a piece by James Hillman, one time director of studies at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Hillman later went on to develop his own variant form of archetypal psychology. Here he is a strong proponent of panpsychism, a world view very similar to the forms of animism being articulated today. Panpsychism literally means the ensoulment of everything (from the Greek), though the word ‘pan’ also cues in a reference to the Roman god of that name. I find his approach both passionate and liberating as a stance to take towards ‘nature alive’.

  1. Hillman, James (1989) The essential James Hillman: a blue fire London: Routledge (Introduced and edited by Thomas Moore in collaboration with the author)
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