Let me share with you a vision:
A man lies in his bed, unable to move for pain. It consumes his consciousness, snaring thought and perception, cutting into awareness like a barbed wire noose. Like an animal, he seeks to escape, to rid himself of the constriction of a ring of knives and fire, but there is no escape. In fact, all his struggles are for naught; the more he struggles, the more it bites, and the more he becomes frantic in his efforts to escape. Pain becomes all there is as he throws himself at the walls of his cell, the thorns of the encircling hedge.
All is fire and agony.
And like an animal caught in a trap, he goes limp. The reality of his situation does not so much set in, as wait patiently for the inevitability to dawn on him. Struggling does no good, and he is already exhausted. There is nothing to do but wait for whatever comes next. Which, ultimately, is death.
But here, the man and the animal differ. For the man, death is in the future. For the animal, there is no future. There is only now – escape may be possible, or it may not. This moment may, in fact, be the moment of death. Whatever the case, the animal will make the most of its options.
And in this vision there is a very particular awareness. An awareness of what both animal and man share, and what they do not – the animal does not, after all, possess the much vaunted “human consciousness”, instead being possessed of (by) its own form of Being in the World. What both share however, is that animating quality we might call Life.
Both are constellations, manifestations, of that quality, though differently arranged in space and time.
animate (v.) 1530s, “to fill with boldness or courage,” from Latin animatus past participle of animare “give breath to,” also “to endow with a particular spirit, to give courage to,” from anima “life, breath” (see animus). Sense of “give life to” in English attested from 1742. Related: Animated; animating.
animus (n.) 1820, “temper” (usually in a hostile sense), from Latin animus “rational soul, mind, life, mental powers; courage, desire,” related to anima “living being, soul, mind, disposition, passion, courage, anger, spirit, feeling,” from PIE root *ane- “to blow, to breathe” (cognates: Greek anemos “wind,” Sanskrit aniti“breathes,” Old Irish anal, Welsh anadl “breath,” Old Irish animm “soul,” Gothic uzanan “to exhale,” Old Norse anda “to breathe,” Old English eðian “to breathe,” Old Church Slavonic vonja “smell, breath,” Armenian anjn “soul”). It has no plural. As a term in Jungian psychology for the masculine component of a feminine personality, it dates from 1923.
Now, what kind of animal is ensnared in this vision, I wonder? What manner of creature do you envisage, lying exhausted and quiescent? Think on that, for a moment. We’ll come back to it
Let me share something else, too:
The great difference between Renaissance Neoplatonism and animism is that Man does not stand in the middle of this energetic onion, having all the forces of the universe beaming down into us, with the rest of Creation relegated to supporting cast status or background greenery. (This is incidentally what Bruno railed against and why he thought they were all idiots. An infinite universe, a cosmos lit with countless little lamps extending into infinity is directly opposed to the magical onion worldview of Neoplatonic/planetary spheres. He was a rock star space shaman.)
That’s from Gordon’s post entitled Gnosticism is the Map. Animism is the Territory. So:
map (n.) 1520s, shortening of Middle English mapemounde “map of the world” (late 14c.), and in part from Middle French mappe, shortening of Old Frenchmapemonde, both English and French words from Medieval Latin mappa mundi “map of the world;” first element from Latin mappa “napkin, cloth” (on which maps were drawn), “tablecloth, signal-cloth, flag,” said by Quintilian to be of Punic origin (compare Talmudic Hebrew mappa, contraction of Mishnaic menaphah “a fluttering banner, streaming cloth”) + Latin mundi “of the world,” from mundus “universe, world” (see mundane). Commonly used 17c. in a figurative sense of “epitome; detailed representation.” To put (something) on the map “bring it to wide attention” is from 1913.
territory (n.) late 14c., “land under the jurisdiction of a town, state, etc.,” probably from Latin territorium “land around a town, domain, district,” from terra “earth, land” (see terrain) + -orium, suffix denoting place (see -ory). Sense of “any tract of land, district, region” is first attested c. 1600. Specific U.S. sense of “organized self-governing region not yet a state” is from 1799. Of regions defended by animals from 1774.
“Since -torium is a productive suffix only after verbal stems, the rise of terri-torium is unexplained” [Michiel de Vaan, “Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages”]. An alternative theory, somewhat supported by the vowels of the original Latin word, suggests derivation from terrere “to frighten” (see terrible); thus territorium would mean “a place from which people are warned off.”
The map is a flag, a cloth full of signs and symbols – engines and operators, transporters which work in concert with that much vaunted “human consciousness”. It is a banner, a thing that snaps, moves, shifts, moving and billowing as the breeze dictates. Without that, it hangs slack, meaningless.
It is a cloth, yes.
A cloth for covering, for laying over the world. What lies beneath, under the colours and signs of human make? When we lay a cloth on a table, on a body, we cover and protect what is covered. We produce a layer that lies-between. Consider then, that such a cloth is a method of distancing, whether by producing distance between objects and experience, or by creating a protective boundary between what lies above/outside the covering, and what lies beneath.
A map produces distance between the world and the perceiver. In effect, it provides a bird’s-eye view, a top-down perception which influences feelings of importance. From On High, we can survey all of our domain – all the enclosed space which is ‘ours’ by virtue of perception. Distant, we have time to prepare, to marshal our resources and operate from a position of “strength” and “might”. The map provides a sense of optionality – it provides us with the illusion of choice, time to plan, the luxury of room-to-move. The cloth provides us with defence against the cold, it breaks the line-of sight, shielding the covered object from prying eyes, so that only the ‘proper’ owner may know what lies beneath (unless it becomes uncovered, of course).
The map is the tyranny of knowledge (tyranny in its technical, philosophical sense, rather than as pejorative). It is the singular view, held in fixity, in stable, easily parsable manner.
The territory, on the other hand, does not imply distance. Even at its most jurisdictional, it deals directly with the land, with the earth itself.
Contrast the heavenly map with the earthly territory.
Consider the place of terror to the distant On High.
There is a vibrancy here, an intimacy born of necessity. Rather than being apart from the world, we are embedded in it. The map gives us a sense of distance from the world, turning us into giants. Distances that would take months to cross might be measured, covered, by the span of a thumb. The world recedes, held at arm’s length, perspective shifting. Provides us with escape-as-optionality, the illusion of freedom.
The map is a cloth, yes.
And cloth is woven, thread taken over and under, in the warp and the weft. The individual spun threads are pulled, tightened – the gaps are closed up, covered. Here is the irony though – the cloth only matters in relation to something outside itself, whether that be what it covers, or what it holds apart. Without the animating breeze, it hangs slack and useless. Without the earth, the very existence of that which it depicts/represents, it has no purpose. All that remains is an illusory echo – the map of the Neoplatonists matters only to those who perceive it. It is useless, unless some benefit is gained from it. To be fair, it must generate some benefit to those who use it – that echo must in some way satisfy an urge or need.
But what distance does it create?
If Man strives to the pinnacle, to refine its consciousness to that of some distant On High, then so be it. If Man seeks to end suffering, so be it. But we must recall that the map is a covering, a machine-for-distance. If it enables us to be giants, to cover thousands of miles with a thumb, so be it. But this does not negate the thousands of miles, the hundreds of microclimates, ecologies, realms and neighbourhoods of beingness which lie beneath the thumb.
No matter how much Man-as-humankind might wish otherwise, the territory exists in all its terrific variety, all its inescapable shapes and forms. It cannot be known from a distance. It must be experienced, come what may. Indeed, it cannot be avoided, no matter what the map says.
Some might skim the variety of Gnostic schools and conclude that all were matter-world hating dualists, the very epitome of those who sought distance from the world. But in that surface skim, they would perhaps miss the sheer variety of Gnostic perspectives, might forget that gnosis is the root of to know. To know the world as it truly is, this is the gnostic impulse, even if we regard the fact of ultimate certain knowledge as impossible.
To no longer kowtow to those On High who dispense the maps of-how-things-are, but to go out and explore, for ourselves, to get the dirt under our fingernails, to acknowledge our constant lack of knowing and let that drive us, hungry and in love with the world, to discover and to experience the More which we instinctively feel a call to, which lies covered and hidden.
occult (adj.) 1530s, “secret, not divulged,” from Middle French occulte and directly from Latin occultus “hidden, concealed, secret,” past participle of occulere “cover over, conceal,” from ob “over” (see ob-) + a verb related to celare “to hide,” from PIE root *kel- (2) “to cover, conceal” (see cell). Meaning “not apprehended by the mind, beyond the range of understanding” is from 1540s. The association with the supernatural sciences (magic, alchemy, astrology, etc.) dates from 1630s.
This then, is the knowing, not by maps and distance, but by heart’s-blood, by coming-together with-and-breaking apart. In this, the we resemble less Man possessed of the much vaunted “human intelligence”, than the animal possessed by the animal intelligence.
In a Kosmos filled with Life, it is only sensible to regard the multitude of Forms of Being which we encounter as Beings-In-And-Of-Themselves, precisely because they are constellations of Life. It doesn’t matter whether or not we are ‘projecting’, only that we accord the possibility of Life to all things, since we ourselves are constellations of Life, and are acted upon by the world at large. This is no the same as anthropocentrism – we do not regard all Beings as human, merely possessed of the animating quality we call Life.
In immersing ourselves in the Gnostic impulse, we seek that which lies below/beyond/within the map – the creative impulse, the enthusing Powers which weave the cloth, in ourselves and in the wider world. We do not seek to solely know what lies On High, but those Powers which weave the complex web of interrelations which make up the Kosmos. Not only that, we seek to become aware of our own participation in the weaving – that which we were previously unconscious of.
In various ancient cultures, the importance of weaving and spinning was well understood, and associated with magic. The Norse volva held an iron staff, modelled on a distaff, and the goddess Frigga, wife of Odin and knower of many things, was associated too. All this, and also the Nornir, three giantmaids held to weave the wyrd of men and gods. The classical Fates also come to mind.
In each case, the imagery of threads being woven together applies; the various inputs and responses, interconnexions, relationships and feedbacks come together to form a whole – each Being connected, or entangled with each other – something that quantum physics is showing exists at the very smallest level of existence.
Nor is this notion of interconnection limited to Norse myth – the notion of Indra’s net as a metaphor for the interconnected nature of the universe existed long before the mediaeval transcription of Norse myth:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering “like” stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
Recall what Gordon said about Bruno?
An infinite universe, a cosmos lit with countless little lamps extending into infinity.
If each of us is a lamp-jewel, reflecting all others in the Kosmos, what then?
And so, to return to the vision to the trapped man and animal – I told you we’d be back, didn’t I?
The man lies there, encircled in his agony. He waits for death, but the animal? The animal, possessed by its intelligence in distinction to Man’s distant possessing of it’s intelligence, does not wait for some imagined future. Instead, it takes events as it comes.
The man lies there exhausted, unable to escape, convinced there is only death to wait for. But, in his agony, he has forgotten he is embedded in the world. Even his cell, even in his pain, there is Life.
In an animistic universe, all is Life – even, and especially, the air we breathe, is full of it. Recall that the root of animate, is breath.
So let us imagine, for a moment, that the man in the vision is quite ordinary, but for one thing – he is a magician.
And as a magician, rather than merely wait for death, he has made it a habit to regularly contemplate his own demise. On some occasions, he sees and feels himself die violently by war, accident, by flame, drowning or weapon. On others he sees and feels a sickness devour him from within, or the weight of old age drag him into the grave.
And so, to pass the time, as he breathes, he begins to notice the feel of the air against his skin; the way it touches him always, the way it feels and tastes as it enters and exits his lungs, ever-present for every moment of his life. Slowly, surely, he realises he is surrounded cocooned by the breath, by the warmth of the sun and the earth, just as he was surrounded by amniotic fluid in the womb.
It occurs then, that he seems to recall wombtime; floating in warm darkness, life moving in and out of him through the navel, wastes and nutrition passing through him, moving within and without like the tides.
Immersed in that Kosmic ocean, he becomes aware that every piece of him is connected to every other piece, and that all these pieces are connected to everything else in the Kosmos. He knows there are those who wish him and others well, and so, as he abides, he allows his mind to dwell on those connexions, on all those who would wish an end to pain and suffering. He adds his own existence to the weight of all others, allows himself to become enthused with Life. His body adjusts, his pain remaining, but no longer the centre of his world.
Instead. it as if he is entangled with everything else. His every molecule attached to every other, his pain, his thought linked inextricably to all things. To move a hand, his hand, is to alter a world, to stir the waters, sending out ripples. To speak a word is to influence the entire Kosmos.
Understand, in this vision, there is no sense of conventional power, no mighty exertion. Only existing. Only Being. Moment to moment. All thought devoted to experience and flowing, rushing movement as Life enters and exits, runs through its infinite possibility.
What was a man lays aside the distance of “human intelligence” and becomes as-animal. That is, he allows himself to become fully animated, releasing his grip on any a particular shape of thought and form. He sinks deeper into the Waters, and finds their wellspring. He descends into the Well of Memory, moving beyond his personal history, his personal embodiment.
Perhaps he might be described as one of those jewels in Indra’s net, quietly being reflected upon by, and reflecting back, the Kosmos?
Perhaps he might meet the one of the keepers of the well?
Who can say.
What is able to be spoken is that the breath is in his body and blood. Whether that be mere oxygen or something more esoteric, the fact remains – what lies within, lies without – and vice-versa. In an animist universe, the animation exists within us and without us. And if each of us is a jewel (or a star) reflecting all others, then are we in fact living lamps?
Can we not, if we care to, cultivate that light within our blood, becoming enthused beings who do not seek distance or escape, but rather to meet with and have communion with all experiences, Powers and Beings? Can we not discover the Life in all things, the Pleroma unveiled?
What use static maps? What use the diktats from distant On High, from monocultural overlords?
Stamp your feet to the rhythm of your blood, to the pulse of Life. The Gnostic impulse is to know things, not on the terms of others, but from your own experience, from the union of yourself with Life in all its terror, beauty and vitality. The Primordial is an existence filled with a Pandaemonium, a cornucopia of Beingness. It is ‘Their’ world only insofar as we are not Them.
Except of course we are as Them. We are as animal, as strange and daemonic, as estranged from “human intelligence” as anything in the Kosmos. Two fingers (or one if you’re American) up to the Archons, be they human, or otherwise.
We’re coming back to the feral banquet, to the furious sabbat of Being. We’re waking up to the orgy of Life.
orgy (n.)1560s, orgies (plural) “secret rites in the worship of certain Greek and Roman gods,” especially Dionysus, from Middle French orgies (c. 1500, from Latinorgia), and directly from Greek orgia (plural) “secret rites,” especially those of Bacchus, from PIE root *werg- “to do” (see organ). The singular, orgy, was first used in English 1660s for the extended sense of “any licentious revelry.” OED says of the ancient rites that they were “celebrated with extravagant dancing, singing, drinking, etc.,” which gives “etc.” quite a workout.
Time to remember – and: