A couple of days I sat down with an interviewer who had read an old essay of mine, “The Hunter’s Eucharist,” also published as “The Nature of the Hunt.” (It appeared along with works by writers more articulate than I in A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport, edited by David Petersen, one of the best nature writers out there.
When I wrote it in the early 1990s, I was maybe more sure of how to talk about the universe than I am now. At least, that is what I ended telling the interviewer, giving him the old story about how the American anthropologist Irving Hallowell, after learning that in the Ojibwe language stones are grammatically animated (treated as alive), asked a tribal elder, “Are all stones alive.” The man thought a moment and replied, “Some are.”
(Or maybe they are experienced as alive some of the time, depending on many things—that is me talking, not Hallowell.)
This interviewer was all right—not capital-P Pagan, but someone who had thought about nature, hunting, and spirituality quite a bit. To be honest, “spirituality” is not a term that I fully comprehend, but I have to use it here.
The more I live, the more complexity I sense in the seen and unseen universe. This makes it harder and harder to talk to monotheists, who think that we merely replace the True God with a set of inferior replacements but otherwise think and worship much as they do.
At the Pagan Square blog portal, Guz diZerega has started a series of posts called “Viewing the World through Pagan Eyes.” He puts the communication problem this way
Christian-derived views see the world as a collection of things initially created and ordered by God. Secularists accepting this distinction replace God with predictable laws. There is a deep distinction between human subjectivity, and the objective nature of everything else. Some secular scientists accept the dichotomy but reject consciousness as a fundamental property of reality, hoping to reduce all subjectivity to impersonal objective processes. The ‘illusion’ of mind is a side effect of determinism, and not an active part of reality.
A Pagan outlook implies what we call subjectivity and objectivity both exist ‘all the way down.’ People can be studied as if they were simply objects and there is an element of awareness in even the simplest phenomena, but reality includes both. This view is not unique to Pagans, some physicists share it, for example. But it is rarely treated seriously in many other sciences, particularly the social sciences. The social sciences usually incorporate the distinction between people and the rest of the world or, alternatively, seeks to understand us using the same ‘objective’ approaches used to understand all else.
I took the title of this post from Gus’s first post, and I am looking forward to reading them all. We need to realize how different we are.
2 thoughts on ““The World is Very Different from a Pagan Perspective””
I can accept that a bacterium might have awareness, which is a fundamental principle of life, but I don’t see how a rock can, as it has no way to organize information or reproduce itself. I have myself found some rocks more attractive or “magical” than others (when I was practicing Wicca, 1980-2000), but I always assumed that was a by-product of my consciousness, not theirs!
“The more I live, the more complexity I sense in the seen and unseen universe.”
Same for me and I consider myself an amateur “physicist” (emphasis on the amateur) because of all the physics, astronomy and math courses I took years ago and continue to study through all those MOOCs. I have also read (and experienced!) the Seth material and in that Seth says that everything is alive due to be composed of something called “consciousness units”. To me that’s equivalent to quarks, those strange pieces of energy that make up everything, including the atoms in your stomach, or the rocks that make up a volcano.
Malcolm J. Brenner’s comment of “I don’t see how a rock can, as it has no way to organize information or reproduce itself,” I think is an example of how humans tend to view Reality in very narrow terms. Hopefully, as our understanding of the Universe expands, our “definition” of what is “life” will also expand.
Unless, of course, we blow ourselves up in a nuclear war before that happens!
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