Bone Room Meditations IV: Soul Searching

February 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Cetacean mri (song for Colin)

I am discussing theories about the Neolithic world view with Ffion and, in particular, the anthropological concept of animism.

I am also looking at the bones of a spur thighed tortoise Testudo greaca graeca. The animal is long dead.

Aristotle based the world’s first zoological text-book Historia Animalium on studies of the living creatures that he observed on the island of  Lesbos. He made a number of dissections of these creatures, including tortoises. To Aristotle it was important that the animal was alive when he was opening up these bodies, when he was looking at the living, beating heart. He was looking for the animus (soul or life) that he believed resided in all animals (animus comes from the greek ‘anima’, from which the word animal is derived); and, like many animists, he believed that a unique soul also resided in plants and even, perhaps, in rocks and stones. Many animist religions emphasise the equality of human beings with fellow soul-bearing animals, plants, landscape elements and even, sometimes, weather phenomena.

Animism is viewed by anthropologists as distinct from the totemic beliefs of some native peoples; Australian Aborigines for example (and, more fantastically, those of the indigenous humanoids occupying Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar). In totemism the landscape itself is a mystical entity, a living, sentient being of enormous power.

In psychological theory the term animism is also used (perhaps somewhat patronisingly) to refer to the childlike state where cause and effect are necessarily connected to consciousness; irrespective of whether the objects affected are imbued with life. I like the connection here with Disney cartoon singing trees and with the Japanese anime inspired by Shinto culture (Shinto is a form of animism that places the human animal in a position of cosmic privilege).

But what interests me most about this world view is the quality of connection, of relatedness; a relatedness that has been proven truthful by the scientific comparisons of genomes that reveal the huge proportions of shared DNA across wildly different mammalian species. The fact that the wet machines of our brains (see drawing above) are essentially wired up in the same way is also of enormous interest. Using MRI imaging it is now possible to look inside the workings of the living mammalian brain; inside the head that was sacred to the Celts. Recent advances in neuroaesthetics have revealed the loci for aesthetic responses in the grey matter of the cerebrum; one can now literally watch the brain dance to music.

So, given the right-sized MRI scanner, will we ever be able to answer this question: “why do birds (or humpback whales) sing?”

What follows is the Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota Sioux prayer. The phrase translates as “all my relations.”

It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life. I particularly like the line that begins ‘To the mineral nation …‘:

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin….All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer….

To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.

To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.

To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.

To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.

To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.

To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages. I thank you.

To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.

You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.

Thank you for this Life.

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