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THE PRIMAL WORLD ENSOULED
Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structure, armouring, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic world. No less potentially, our world view—our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions—constellates our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.
Perhaps the most concise way of defining the modern world view is a focus on that which distinguishes it from virtually all other world views. Speaking very generally, what sets the modern mind apart is its fundamental tendency to assert and experience a radical separation between subject and object, a distinct division between the human self and the encompassing world. This perspective can be contrasted with what has come to be called the primal world view, characteristic of traditional indigenous cultures. The primal mind does not maintain this decisive division, does not recognize it, whereas the modern mind not only maintains it but is essentially constituted on it.
The primal human being perceives the surrounding natural world as permeated with meaning, meaning whose significance is at once human and cosmic. Spirits are seen in the forest, presences are felt in the wind and the ocean, the river, the mountain. Meaning is recognized in the flight of two eagles across the horizon, in the conjunction of two planets in the heavens, in the unfolding cycles of the Moon and Sun. The primal world is ensouled. It communicates and has purpose. It is pregnant with signs and symbols, implications and intentions. The world is animated by the same psychologically resonant realities that human beings experience within themselves. A continuity extends from the interior world of the human to the world outside. In the primal experience, what we would call the “outer” world possess an interior aspect that is continuous with human subjectivity. Creative and responsive intelligence, spirit and soul, meaning and purpose are everywhere. The human being is a microcosm within the macrocosm of the world, participating in its interior reality and united with the whole in ways that are both tangible and invisible.
Primal experience takes place, as it were, within a world soul, an anima mundi, a living matrix of embodied meaning. The human psyche is embedded within the world psyche in which it complexly participates and by which it is continuously defined. The workings of that anima mundi, in all flux and diversity, are articulated through a language that is mythic and numinous. Because the world is understood as speaking a symbolic language, direct communication of meaning and purpose from world to human can occur. The many particulars of the empirical world are all endowed with symbolic, archetypal significance, and that significance flows between inner and outer, between self and world. In this relatively undifferentiated state of consciousness, human beings perceive themselves as directly—emotionally, mystically, consequentially—participating in and communicating with the life of the natural world and cosmos. To be more precise, this participation mystique involves a complex sense of direct inner participation not only of human beings in the world but also of human beings in the divine powers, through ritual, and of divine powers in the world, by virtue of their immanent and transformative presence. The participation is multidirectional and multidimensional, pervasive and encompassing.
About the author:
RICHARD TARNAS is a graduate of Harvard University and the Saybrook Institute. He was for ten years the Director of Programs at the Esalen Institute. He is the founder of the graduate program in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness at the California Institute of Integral Studies and an adjunct faculty member of the Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the author of The Passion of the Western Mind and his most recent book is Cosmos and Psyche: Intimations of a New World View.