I am playing with the archetype of the shaman as a helpful turn towards perceiving wholeness of person and society. This is part of an exploration of ways of integrating and experiencing oneself an integral being, so relevant in the context of the Anthropocene, where western enlightenment values no longer serve as a philosophical guide to humanity’s well-being on Earth.
Indeed, the challenge of the Anthropocene urgently calls us to dissolve the false divisions and hierarchies created by Cartesian binaries and existing within each of us. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) contributed profoundly to our understanding of perception. He believed that we know ourselves only to the extent that we know the world, because we become aware of ourselves only within the world, and aware of the world only within ourselves so that “every object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception within us.” This is hard because we have been trained to see things in isolation and as objects.
This post, Wild, Strong and Free and Perceiving Wholes will focus upon our internal strength and readiness for action in the world. The shaman is in service of their community, their primary concern is to attend to that which needs healing. As a researcher and active citizen for change, I am exploring the qualities of the shaman to inform and enrich my work.
Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell encouraged us to explore archetypes, dreams and mystical practices, to enlarge and renew human consciousness so foundational to our collective well-being. These processes are freeing and energising, and a path toward self-realization and individuation which is a primary goal in the journey toward full human expression and happiness.
Be prepared – the shaman is ‘woo-woo’. If a traditional shaman turned up in one of our ordered and tidy suburbs, they would most likely be ignored, shunned and/or incarcerated. We have been well trained to like, and feel comfortable with the ordered, unblemished and new, that we allocate large resources to tame, contain and control environments and animals that are savage or untamed.
We shame and fear those who are perceived as mad, or without the recognisable habits and demeanour of the civilized. These assumptions are foundational to our contemporary worldview.
The 300-year-old Newtonian paradigm underpinning western society has provided us with robust intellectual frameworks, with which we have developed extensive knowledge bases in science, economics, engineering, health and medicine. But we now know that this way of knowing does not fully explain, or illuminate our understanding of the complex whole of this planet. Nor are we as logical and informed as we like to believe.
New perspectives have emerged through 20th century revolutions in biology and quantum physics, mathematics and computer science. These understandings have disrupted the certainty of the Newtonian paradigm and like the Deleuzian rhizome popping up ‘randomly’, ideas of linearity and the comfort of clear beginnings and endings now dissolve.
Our material certainties about space and time are also disturbed. As my integrative optometrist says, in a quantum world “anything seen or unseen is based on infinite possibility, (and) consciousness is the ground of all being” (Christian 2016). We begin to understand that the whole is more than, and in fact can never be perceived as the sum of its parts.
Key elements of the dualistic structure of western thought (Plumwood, 1993) Culture / Nature Reason – Culture – Human / Nature – Emotion – Animality Male /Female Civilized / Primitive Mind / Body Self – Subject / Other – Object
By identifying the dynamics of dualistic thinking, feminist and post-structural theorists revealed the societal cost of radical exclusion and separation inherent in these oppositions. Wholeness is all-inclusive, mind, body, soul and spirit have different orders of perception and understanding. This is beyond hierarchy and quantification. We are ready for the interdependence of networks and systems.
References & links
Bortoft, H. 2013, The Nature of Wholeness: Goethe’s Way of Science, Lindisfarne Press, Great Britain.
Christian, M. 2016, In Focus: Vision, Mind & Body, Balboa Press, Indiana.
Noble, V. 1983, Motherpeace : A way to the Goddess through Myth, Art and Tarot, Harper & Row, San Francisco.
Plumwood, V. 1993, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Routledge, London.