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Love And Will
Meditation And Recollection
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
Light And Darkness
Man And Nature
Mystic Intuition And Reason
Mystic Receptivity
Nature Mysticism And The Race
Nature Not Symbolic
Nature, And The Absolute
Poetry And Nature Mysticism
Rivers And Death
Rivers And Life
Seasons, Vegetation, Animals
Springs And Wells
Still Waters
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

Animism, Ancient And Modern

After this metaphysical bath we return invigorated to the world
of concrete experience dear alike to the common-sense thinker
and the modern investigator. Do the facts of life, as ordinarily
presented, or as systematised in reflection, at all point in the
direction of the doctrine of immanent ideas? It will be seen that
this question admits of an affirmative answer. But the term
"idea" must be taken as embracing psychic existence in its
entirety--that is to say, feeling and will, as well as reason. The
dry bones of reason must be clothed with flesh and blood. The
appeal is to actual experience. Let Walt Whitman give us his.
"Doubtless there comes a time when one feels through his
whole being, and pronouncedly the emotional part, that identity
between himself subjectively and Nature objectively which
Schelling and Fichte are so fond of pressing. How it is I know
not, but I often realise a presence here--in clear moods I am
certain of it, and neither chemistry nor reasoning, nor aesthetics
will give the least explanation."

Walt Whitman mentions Fechner. Here is James's masterly
summary of Fechner's general view in this regard. "The original
sin, according to Fechner, of both our popular and our scientific
thinking, is our inveterate habit of regarding the spiritual not as
the rule but as an exception in the midst of nature. Instead of
believing our life to be fed at the breasts of the greater life, our
individuality to be sustained by the greater individuality, which
must necessarily have more consciousness and more independence
than all that it brings forth, we habitually treat whatever
lies outside of our life as so much slag and ashes of
life only; or if we believe in a Divine Spirit, we fancy him on
the one side as bodiless and nature as soulless on the other.
What comfort or peace, Fechner asks, can come from such a
doctrine? The flowers wither at its breath, the stars turn into
stone; our own body grows unworthy of our spirit and sinks into
a tenement for carnal senses only. The book of nature turns into
a volume on mechanics, in which whatever has life is treated as
a sort of anomaly; a great chasm of separation yawns between
us and all that is higher than ourselves, and God becomes a nest
of thin abstractions."

It is sufficiently well known that primitive man did not indulge
in these "thin" views of nature. He interpreted the events and
changes around him on the analogy of human activities; he
looked upon them as manifestations of living wills. And indeed
how could he do otherwise? For as yet he knew of no mode of
activity other than his own. At first those objects and
happenings were singled out which were of most practical
interest, or which most distinctly forced themselves upon the
attention. The beast of prey which threatened his life, the noisy
brook, the roaring waves, the whisperings and cracklings in the
woods--all argued the presence of life and will. So too with
mountains, avalanches, sun, moon, stars, clouds, caves, fire,
light, dark, life, death. So more especially with the storm which
sweeps across the land, the thunder which shakes the solid
earth, and the lightning which flashes from the one side of
heaven to the other. Such were the phenomena on which his
intellect worked, and in which he discovered all manner of
useful or harmful causal relations. Such were the phenomena
which produced in him emotions of awe and terror, joy and
delight. To all of them he ascribed mental life like unto his own.
Indeed it was only by such a view that he could at all
understand them, or bring himself into living connection with

From these primitive times onward, each century in the history
of civilisation has brought a wider outlook. But the original
tendency to animism has persisted and still persists. It has
behind it an undying impulse. It manifests its vitality, not only
among the uninstructed masses, but in the most select ranks of
scientists and philosophers. And thus it is not too much to say
that the idea of a universal life in nature is as firmly rooted
today as it was in the dawn of man's intellectual development.
The form in which the idea has been presented has changed
with the ages. Mythology succeeded animism, and has in turn
yielded to many curious and vanished theories, polytheistic,
gnostic, pantheistic, and the rest. Now, the belief in distinct
beings behind natural phenomena has virtually disappeared. Not
so the belief in some form of universal life or consciousness--of
which belief representative types will be given directly.

Of the persistence of the mental attitude in the modern child,
Ruskin gives a charming example, in his "Ethics of the Dust."
"One morning after Alice had gone, Dotty was very sad and
restless when she got up; and went about, looking into all the
corners, as if she would find Alice in them, and at last she came
to me, and said, 'Is Alie gone over the great sea?' And I said,
'Yes, she is gone over the great deep sea, but she will come
back again some day.' Then Dotty looked round the room; and I
had just poured some water out into the basin; and Dotty ran to
it, and got up on a chair, and dashed her hand through the water,
again and again; and cried, 'Oh, deep, deep sea! Send little Alice
back to me.'" On this, Ruskin remarks--"The whole heart of
Greek mythology is in that; the idea of a personal being in the
elemental power; of its being moved by prayer; and of its
presence everywhere, making the broken diffusion of the
element sacred." It would seem that Dotty did not definitely
personify the element, but was rather in the animistic stage. The
identifying of the natural element or object with a definite
personality is a further step taken, as Ruskin says, by the Greeks
preeminently. But the beauty and the suggestive quality of the
incident remain, whichever view be taken.

A still more deeply suggestive example is found in Wordsworth's
description of a boyish night adventure of his on Esthwaite
Lake. For it shows the inner workings of a mind impressed
by specially striking natural objects, and by the obscurely
realised powers which they dimly manifest.

"I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And as I rose upon the stroke my boat
Wont heaving through the waters like a swan;--
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again;
And, growing still in stature, the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own,
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oar I turned,
And through the silent waters made my way
Back to the covert of the willow-tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood. But after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being."

There we have revealed to us the soul of animism whether
ancient or modern!

The older animism was crude and uncritical. In proportion as
men learnt to reflect upon their experience, it was bound to be
modified, and to submit to reactionary influences. Such was the
case at the very beginning of philosophical and scientific
enquiry--and such was the case also at the opening of the
"modern" era. Speaking generally, it may be said that as
knowledge of natural law extended, the idea of mental activities
in external nature was ousted. Mechanical views of the universe
gradually prevailed, and reached a passing climax in Descartes'
contention that even animals are automata!

"A passing climax"--for worse was to come. Man himself was
to be brought under the remorseless sway of physics interpreted
by mathematics. The _Homme Machine_ idea found stalwart
supporters, and gained many adherents. All forms of animism
seemed to be overwhelmed once for all. The nature-mystic
appeared to be an idle dreamer or a deluded simpleton. Nor is
the course of such exaggerations yet ended. In the pages of the
"Nineteenth Century," Huxley could seriously propound as a
thesis for discussion the question--"Are animals automata?"
And books with such titles as "The Human Machine" have still
considerable circulation.

But just as criticism undermined the immaturities and
exaggerations of the older animism, so is it undermining the
more dangerous arrogance of an exaggerated and soulless
materialism. Speculation is now trending back to a critical
animism, and, enriched by all that physical science has had to
give, is opening out new world-views of transcendent interest.
The nature-mystic is coming into his own again. It must be his
care to keep abreast of thought and discovery, and so avoid that
tendency to exaggeration, and even fanaticism, which has, in
the past, so greatly damaged the cause of Mysticism at large.

The animistic theory is now being propounded thus. Why should
not all transfers of energy, whether in living or non-living
bodies, be accompanied by a "somewhat "that is akin to
man's mental life? The arguments in favour of such a view are
numerous, many-sided, and cumulative. The hypothesis of
evolution gives them keen edge and gathering force. Behind the
cosmic process men feel there must be a creative power, an
animating impulse. The struggle upwards must mean something.
Mechanism is but a mode of working--its Ground is soul, or spirit.

Thus a new day is dawning for a soundly critical animism. It is
realised that to formulate "laws" in accordance with which
certain modes of happening take place is not to pierce to the
heart of things, but to rest on the surface. Mechanism explains
nothing and leaves us poor indeed! Whereas, the universe is a
majestic manifestation of Becoming--of a veritable
development of life.

The line between organic and inorganic is fading more and
more from the minds of investigators. Protoplasm, for instance,
mingles together mechanical, chemical, and vital in a fused
whole, which it passes the wit of man to analyse. The
connection between body and soul is similarly found to defy the
old distinctions between matter and mind. Clearly a universal
life is pulsating in the whole; genuine impulses, not mechanical
stresses and strains, are the causes of the upward sweep into
fuller consciousness and richer complexity of experience. The
old conception of a world soul is achieving a new lease of life,
and is dowering science with the human interest and the mystic
glow it so sorely lacks.

Next: Will And Consciousness In Nature

Previous: The Immanent Idea

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