contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Earth

REBLOG: SCIENCE IN SERVICE TO MOTHER EARTH

Science is, after all, an endeavor of humans and our machines. What would it mean to put this endeavor at the service of Mother Earth? Presumably, our efforts must always be guided by human discernment, in all its fallibility. Who decides what best serves this vision of the Greater Good?

via [A Pedagogy of Gaia] Science in Service to Mother Earth, by Bart Everson — Humanistic Paganism

BOOK REVIEW: THE EARTH, THE GODS AND THE SOUL

jhp51efa580a1aafThe Earth, the Gods and the Soul: a History of Pagan Philosophy, from the Iron Age to the 21st Century by Brendan Myers fully justifies the ambition of its title. I see it as a must-read for anyone with an interest in pagan ideas and culture – past and present. Part of the author’s  mission is to demonstrate that “a pagan culture can be artistically vibrant, environmentally conscious, intellectually stimulating, and socially just”.

Myers provides useful working definitions of both ‘pagan’ and ‘philosophy’, whilst also showing the complexities involved in each term. He limits ‘pagan’ to people in the nations of the west and their predecessor societies in Europe and the Mediterranean, whose religion is non-Abrahamic (not Judaism, Christianity and Islam). This may now be complicated by patterns of migration and the Western impact of dharmic religions, but it works well enough if you are looking for a specific pagan tradition and its origins. Modern paganism, according to Myers, is informed by three families of ideas – pantheism, neo-Platonism, and humanism: these address the “immensities”, respectively, of Earth, Gods and Soul.

‘Philosophy’, for Myers, is an intellectual discipline that seeks answers to the ultimate questions about ‘life, the universe and everything’ using reason rather than the authority of dogma or an intuited divine source. He usefully lists 7 branches of this discipline: logic, ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, phenomenology, aesthetics and the history of ideas. Western philosophy’s origins are in Greece, and linked to the ‘know yourself’ injunction outside the temple of the Delphic Oracle. Myers sees this as a basic ethical demand for an honestly examined life, especially when wishing to enter the presence of a god. It leads to a wider view that self-knowledge heals, enlightens and empowers, though it may also at times judge and condemn.

The book is arranged as if musically, in an overture and six movements. The people chosen for inclusion are in many cases neither philosophers not pagans, and in many others only one of the two. But they have helped to define modern pagan ideas, culture and sensibility. Each movement covers a different historical period:

  1. A look at the old northern (‘barbarian’) world includes the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer, Iceland’s Elder Edda, early writings about Druids, Irish wisdom texts and the Pelagian heresy (an early Christian heresy popular in the Celtic lands). There is no direct voice from a pagan culture in north west Europe, so Christians with half a foot in the old pagan world, or (in the case of the Druids) Greek and Roman authors are cited.
  2. A substantial collection of pagan Greek or Greek influenced philosophers from the early pre-Socratic period to the pagan martyr Hypatia of Alexandria. Also included are the Irish Christian neo-Platonist John Scotus Eriugena, and a section on the much later Italian renaissance. The people in this section, up to and including Hypatia, are both pagans (as we use that word today)and philosophers (in the ancient Greek understanding of that term).
  3. This movement is called ‘Pantheism in the Age of Reason’ and includes 18th century figures like John Toland, Edward Williams (aka Iolo Morganwg) and the Platonist and translator Thomas Taylor – as well as the more famous Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For the nineteenth century, we have Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
  4. A movement on pagan ‘resurgence, reinvention and rebirth’ begins with Helena Blavatsky and the launch of 19th century Theosophy, going on to include J.G. Fraser of The Golden Bough, Robert Graves of The White Goddess, George William (A.E.) Russell of A Vision and Aleister Crowley. It goes on to look at the background to Gerard Gardner’s work and the Book of Shadows, then at the appearance of American Feminist Witchcraft and also at the separate stream of Eco-Spirituality and Deep Ecology.
  5. The fifth movement comprises ‘living voices’, so Stewart Farrar and Isaac Bonewits are placed at the end of the fourth, whereas Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone appear here. So too do Starhawk, Emma Restall-Orr, John Michael Greer, Vivianne Crowley, Michael York and Gus diZerega. There is also a section on ‘the critique of monotheism’. Myers praises Emma Restall-Orr for her work on ethics, its spirit of critical inquiry and her formal use of philosophical sources.
  6. Here we find Brendan Myers’ personal commentary. He talks about a hoped-for development of a critical tradition on paganism, and the value of ‘institutions’ in maintaining such a tradition. (He acknowledges that this may go somewhat against the grain of paganism as a dissident culture). He talks about modern to paganism’s history of ‘faulty ideas’, and promotes the development of better ideas for the future.  He also celebrates the health of a ‘will to live in an enchanted world’. Myers has ‘no special teachings’ of his own. A declared pagan philosopher, he builds his personal inquiry around four questions: how shall I dwell upon the earth? How shall I converse with all people? How shall I emerge from my loneliness? How shall I face my mortality? He then goes on to discuss what these questions bring up for him.

Myers ends his book by saying: “the best music is made with humanity, integrity and wonder – everyone has instruments to hand … When I hear music I share it … when I make music I share it too … I hope that my people will celebrate with me and play along … when I make dissonant or offending sounds, I trust my people will warm me, so I can make amends … nothing more, perhaps, could be asked of anyone. And, perhaps, nothing less”.

The Earth, the Gods and the Soul is a well-informed and simply written history of pagan ideas, which tells modern pagans a lot about the shoulders we sit on. It is a great reference book. But what it did mostly for me was to get me thinking about my own relationship to philosophy and its working methods. I call my own journey a contemplative inquiry. How could I use tools from philosophy’s  toolkit to improve my own inquiry in service of a pagan critical tradition? That’s where there’s an inspiration for me – because I sense an invitation there, from a professional philosopher, to make use of this toolkit. Myers’ forward includes a reference to Clear and Present Thinking, written by him with support from a number of University colleagues for a general audience, and freely downloadable. It’s another good job, and very useful to have.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE: MASS EXTINCTION AD THE MUSIC OF THE WORLD

The Druid's Garden

I recently came across an article from The Guardian in 2012 detailing the work of scientist Bernie Krause, who has spent his life recording sounds of nature. Krause’s major finding is simple: the loss of biodiversity, from the depths of the reefs to the rain forests, can be clearly tracked by listening to audio recordings over a 40-year period. He reports that he now hears deafening silence in so many ecosystems that once teemed with life. The article detailed his book, The Great Animal Orchestra. I bought the book, compelled to read more, the cryptic words of Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence echoing in my ears. This blog post is a bit different than some of my others, in that it is simply a response, a real and human response, to the growing sound of silence upon our landscape.

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of…

View original post 1,185 more words

NATURE LANGUAGE

Philip Carr-Gomm wrote an essay, Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: the Nature Mysticism of Druidry, as his foreword to Contemplative Druidry (1). Emma Restall Orr talked about her own nature mysticism in a recent radio interview, published on Joanna Vander Hoeven’s Down the Forest Path blog (2). Last year Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist scholar and teacher who leads the ‘Community of Interbeing’ (and is now perhaps near the end of his journey) wrote a deceptively simple-seeming work called Love Letter to the Earth (3), with chapter headings like: We are the Earth, Practices for Falling in Love with the Earth and Ten Love Letters to the Earth.

These prompts have led me to reflect more deeply on how I use Nature language and what, specifically, I mean by it. Thich Nhat Hanh’s starting point (3) is a helpful one: “at this very moment the Earth is above you, below you, all around you, and even inside you. The Earth is everywhere. … The Earth is not just the environment we live in. We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us. Realizing this, we can see that the Earth is truly alive … we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth.”  The overall point, familiar enough yet made here with fresh elegance and clarity, is one with which Druids and Buddhists alike can find a ready resonance. But its main effect on me this time round was to get me wondering about the language of Nature.

What do I understand by Nature? For me, the key word is Nature rather than Earth. The Earth is a subset of Nature, larger than you and me who are indeed contained within it, but still a subset. In my understanding, Nature is simply what there is. And ‘what there is’ seems to us, in this culture at this time, to have exploded out of a remarkably fertile emptiness, into the 3D and time-bound reality that our perceptions somewhat mesh with, and of course a great deal more outside our normal range and beyond our range entirely. We humans are wholly natural with all our known and realised potentials – and others too that are but dimly intuited and largely untapped.

We cannot individually encompass the whole of Nature. We must choose, at whatever levels of relative awareness, where to put our efforts and attention. Thich Nhat Hanh is pretty clear about his: he has a strong intent, which involves a mutually sustaining balance of contemplation and action. My key ‘contemplative’ choice, not feeling very accomplished, is to enter more fully into the Heart identity I spoke in my Heart Language post. This seems like a good thing for me, and likely to improve my relationships and connections, particularly with my local world – the Earth and its inhabitants. I could call it extending the human side of human nature, a natural thing for a human to do.

(1) Nichol, James (2014) Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing

(2) http://downtheforestpath.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/interview-with-emma-restall-orr/

(3) Thich Nhat Hanh (2013) Love Letter to the Earth Berkeley, California: Parallax Press

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