Friday, May 16, 2008
You have to be a little different to spend much time thinking about what I'm calling "animal spirits." This is because Western civilization -- and therefore increasingly, most of the planet -- has been whipsawed for several centuries between the antagonistic Leviathans, "science" and "religion." At a time when we should be re-calibrating our ethical relationship to the earth, and figuring out what to do about the global environmental crisis, instead we're re-hashing the Scopes Monkey Trial in the so-called debate between evolution vs. creationism. In such a context, the notion of animal spirits sounds positively archaic, pagan, superstitious, outdated. We take pride in having "evolved" beyond such primitive nonsense, yet we scarcely bother to ask ourselves why, if we are so evolved, the Earth is in such a precarious state.
But I believe we threw many babies out with the bathwater, in our March of Progress, and that we must recover at least some of the insights that informed the better part of human existence for hundreds of thousands of years. This is not a call for a regression to a Biblical Eden or a Stone-Age paradise. It is rather an invitation to re-enter some of the pathways of experience that have forever been open to us, in the hope that we can heal at least some of the terrible wounds that rend our souls, and which we in turn inflict on the planet and our fellow creatures.
I take it from experience, then, that there is profound value in the idea of animal spirits -- and even more in the phenomena and the experiences surrounding them. I think it is high time we recover that archaic sense of animals as sacred, knowing presences that grace our lives and enable our better, creative selves.
On one level, animals reflect and reveal to us the evolutionary precedents that still inform the deepest sub-strata of our bodies and psyches (cf. the vestigial tails and gill slits in our embryos, the mysterious "reptilian brain" that underlies all our conscious functions). On another level -- spiritually, imaginally, psychologically and mythically -- they may well carry messages to us from "higher" or "deeper" realms, functioning in effect like "angelic" bridges to the creative wellsprings of the cosmos.
That's a lot to expect of dogs, cats, birds, bears, beetles, fish, snakes, etc. But in the posts that follow I hope to put forward arguments and examples that, at the very least, will provoke stimulating thoughts and perhaps even release some healing images from the depths.