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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
Self-adjustment
The First Form Of Contemplation
The Mystical Life
The Preparation Of The Mystic
The Second Form Of Contemplation
The Third Form Of Contemplation
The World Of Reality
What Is Mysticism?
Anaximenes And The Air
Animism, Ancient And Modern
Brooks And Streams
Development And Discipline Of Intuition
Earth, Mountains, And Plains
Fire And The Sun
Heracleitus And The Cosmic Fire
Introductory
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Mythology
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Pragmatic
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
Thales
The Beautiful And The Ugly
The Charge Of Anthropomorphism
The Expanse Of Heaven--colour
The Immanent Idea
The Moon--a Special Problem
The Ocean
The Waters Under The Earth
Will And Consciousness In Nature
Winds And Clouds



Anaximenes And The Air








Hitherto our attention has been almost exclusively fixed upon
the mystical influences of water in motion or at rest. And even
though we went no farther afield, a fair presentment has been
gained of what a modern nature-mystic might advance in
explanation and defence of his characteristic views and modes
of experience. We now turn to consider other ranges of physical
phenomena, which, though of equal dignity and significance,
will not meet with equal fullness of treatment--otherwise the
limits proposed for this study would be seriously exceeded.

We have seen how and why Thales deemed water to be the
_Welt-stoff_. His immediate successors, while adhering to his
principles and aims, were not content with his choice. They
successively sought for something less material. One of them,
Anaximenes, was attracted by the qualities and functions of the
atmosphere, and his speculations will serve as an introduction to
the mysticism of winds and storms and clouds. Only a single
statement of his is preserved in its original form; but fortunately
it is full of significance. "As our soul" (said the sage), "which
is air, holds us together, so wind and air encompass the whole
world." This, interpreted in the light of ancient comments,
shows that Anaximenes compared the breath of life to the air,
and regarded the two as essentially related--indeed as identical.
For the breath, he thought, holds together both animal and
human life; and so the air holds together the whole world in a
complex unity. He reached the wider doctrine by observing that
the air is, to all appearance, infinitely extended, and that earth,
water, and fire seem to be but islands in an ocean which spreads
around them on all sides, penetrating their inmost pores, and
bathing their smallest atoms. It was on such facts and
appearances that he based his main doctrine. If we think of the
modern theory of the luminiferous ether, we shall not be far
from his view-point. But the simpler and more obvious qualities
of the air would of course not be without their influence--its
mobility and incessant motion; its immateriality; its
inexhaustibility; its seeming eternity. It is, therefore, not
astonishing that with his attention thus focussed on a group of
truly wonderful phenomena, the old nature-philosopher should
have selected air as his primary substance--as the universal
vehicle of vital and psychic force.

It is of especial interest to the nature-mystic to find that
Anaximenes was faithful to the doctrine that the primary
substance must contain in itself the cause of its own motion.
And the interest is intensified in view of the fact that his
insistence on the life-giving properties of air rests on a widely
spread group of animistic notions which have exercised an
extraordinary influence on the world at large. Let Tylor furnish
a summary. "Hebrew shows _nephesh_, 'breath,' passing into all
the meanings of life, soul, mind, animal, while _ruach_ and
_neshamah_ make the like transition from 'breath' to 'spirit'; and
to these the Arabic _nefs_ and _ruh_ correspond. The same is
the history of the Sanskrit atman and prana, of Greek _psyche_
and _pneuma_, of Latin _anima, animus, spiritus_. So Slavonic
_duch_ has developed the meaning of 'breath' into that of 'soul'
or 'spirit'; and the dialects of the gypsies have this word _duk_
with the meanings of 'breath, spirit, ghost,' whether these
pariahs brought the word from India as part of their inheritance
of Aryan speech, or whether they adopted it in their migration
across Slavonic lands. German _geist_ and English _ghost_,
too, may possibly have the same original sense of breath." How
marvellously significant this ascent from the perceptions of
wind and breath to what we now understand by soul and spirit!
The most attenuated concepts have their basis in the physical
world. Even to this present day, as Max Mueller remarks, "the
soul or the spirit remains a breath, an airy breath, for this is the
least material image of the soul which they can conceive."

Another doctrine of Anaximenes is most worthy of note by
nature mystics, as well as by scientists. It is well stated by
Theophrastus. "The air differs in rarity and in density as the
nature of things is different; when very attenuated it becomes
fire, when more condensed, wind, and then cloud; and when
still more condensed, water and earth and stone; and all other
things are composed of these; and he regards motion as eternal,
and by this changes are produced." We have here a distinct
adumbration of the atomic theory in its most defensible form--
that is to say, a conception which makes the differences in
various substances consist in differences in condensation or
rarefaction of the particles of the primary substance. The simple
normal condition of this substance he deemed to be air. In its
rarefied condition, it becomes fire, and in its condensed
condition it progresses by stages from liquid to solid. And just
as the modern chemist is beginning to have good ground for
believing that all substances, or so-called elements, may be the
result of a series of differentiations and compositions of an
originally homogeneous substance, in spite of the fact that he is
not yet able to effect the transformations in his laboratory, so,
all those centuries ago, the Milesian sage seized on the same
root idea and made it the basis of a world philosophy. It is a
long cry from the old idea, familiar to Homer, that mist or
vapour is condensed air to the cosmology of a Herbert Spencer,
and yet nature is so rich in material for prompting intuitions of
her deepest truths that one ultimate cause of material evolution
was revealed in days when science was hardly brought to the
birth.

An examination, albeit cursory and partial, of this ancient
speculation, has thus revealed at any rate two results of prime
importance in the study of Nature Mysticism. The one is that
the air has furnished the primary type of the soul as the
principle of life--man's fleeting breath has suggested and
fostered the idea of immortality; the wind that bloweth where it
listeth, the idea of a realm of changeless spirit! The other result
is that certain of nature's most obvious phenomena, when seized
by intuition, can supply a key to some of her profoundest
secrets. Shall not these results be as true for the world of to-day
as for the flourishing times of old-world Miletus?





Next: Winds And Clouds

Previous: Still Waters



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