How Small Red Leaves
Become Mountains of Fire
Chinese Folk Music and the Archetypal Imagination
"But whoever looks from inside, knows that everything is new. The events that happen are always the same. But the creative depths of man are not always the same.”
– C.G. Jung, The Red Book
A kind of fluid interpenetration belongs to the very nature of all archetypes. They can only be roughly circumscribed at best. Their living meaning comes out more from their presentation as a whole than from a single formulation. Every attempt to focus them more sharply is immediately punished by the intangible core of meaning losing its luminosity. No archetype can be reduced to a simple formula. It is a vessel which we can never empty, and never fill. It has a potential existence only, and when it takes shape in matter it is no longer what it was. It persists throughout the ages and requires interpreting ever anew. The archetypes are the imperishable elements of the unconscious, but they change their shape continually.
-- C.G. Jung, “The Psychology of the Child Archetype” (1940)
The Redness of the Flower of Pear Trees
The Place Where Small Red Leaves
The Etheric Imagination
"Etheric imagination grants the process philosopher perceptual access to the formative forces unfolding organized beings from the inside out. Etheric imagination is in this sense not in the business of fantasy or make believe, but is an organ of genuine conceptual and perceptual import in tune with natural processes that unfold below the level of ordinary rational waking consciousness."
-- Matthew Segall
Etheric Imagination in Process Philosophy from Schelling & Steiner to Whitehead
Dissertation Proposal for Prof. Jacob Sherman By Matthew David Segall December 17, 2013
This dissertation interprets the process philosophies of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) as early and late modern expressions of what esotericist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) called etheric imagination. Understanding the process philosophies of Schelling and Whitehead requires first coming to share the imaginative background animating their ideas: both were major contributors to the paradigm-remaking natural sciences of their day, and both were expressions of the Romantic reaction against Enlightenment rationalism. In order to better grasp their novel contributions to modern science and philosophy, I diachronically situate Schelling and Whitehead in relation to their shared esoteric sources and intellectual influences dating back to Plato, as well as synchronically trace how their ideas have continued to reverberate through various streams of post-modern thought. I draw connections between Schelling’s alchemically inspired Naturphilosophie and Whitehead’s geometrically intuited philosophy of organism by reading them in light of Steiner’s esoteric conception of an etheric reality that mediates between spirit and nature, or mind and matter. The process-philosophical imagination is depicted as the emergence of an etheric organ of perception granting the process philosopher sub- and super-sensory insight into the nature of cosmogenesis. My dissertation will argue that the process-philosophical imagination, especially when read through the lens of Western esotericism, offers an alternative conception of modern science and rationality that can serve as the basis of a more ecologically grounded planetary civilization.
For dissertation proposal, click here.
The Imaginal Ecologist
Becca Psyche Tarnas
I would say an imaginal ecologist is anyone who recognises the important interconnecting role that imagination has to play in the human-Earth relationship. Ecology is not just a biological science studying ecosystems, although that is a very important part of the discipline, but a study of relationship and interconnection. As one of my teachers Joanna Macy put it, one cannot see relationship with the physical eyes, but rather with the eye of imagination. Imagination allows us to see more deeply to what is not simply on the surface, and to see into the potential of what might be—both negatively and positively. Imagination can allow us to see the potentially dire negative effects of our current exploitative, extractivist, capitalistic relationship to the Earth, and it can also allow us to perceive what a turn toward a future in which humans live as part of the Earth’s ecosystems might look like, rather than remain in denial of our intricate interconnected relationship with this planet. Imagination opens up the possibility of that future. I would say an imaginal ecologist is one who dreams, but a dreamer who brings her imaginal visions into reality through dedicated action.
Whitehead and Archetypal Cosmology
Becca Psyche Tarnas (excerpt)
click here for entire paper
This paper was presented at the conference “Seizing an Alternative: Toward An Ecological Civilization,” held in Claremont, California at Pomona College. The section of the conference was titled “Alienation from Nature,” and the track, organized by Matthew Segall, was called “Late Modernity and Its Re-imagining.”
This conference is titled “Seizing an Alternative,” a title that implies the alternative is already here, it is not something new that must be invented. The alternative has been present all along, waiting, urging us even, to open our imaginations to the possibility that this alternative is, in a sense, the very essence—a hidden essence—of our world. At this conference our section has been addressing the alienation from the rest of the cosmos felt by the human being in late modernity. And each talk in our track has been revealing, in its own way, the deep interconnection that has always been present between us and our world. We are our world. The cosmic web has not been cut, although part of our human journey has been to feel as though the threads of our existence have been severed.
For Whitehead the source of all things is creativity. Creativity is primary. Creativity is the realm of pure potential. Chaos. Griffin has referred to Whitehead’s philosophy as “process theology,” “especially when the chief focus is on God and other questions of ‘ultimate concern’ (Paul Tillich), such as ultimate origin, order, value, and meaning.” In Whitehead’s scheme, God is not the ultimate. Creativity is. God is that which orders the chaos of pure potentiality into the hierarchy of eternal objects—and, I would posit, into the archetypes. God takes chaos and turns it into cosmos, but God is born of that chaos. God is the first concrescence, an everlasting concrescence, the first experiential achievement of chaos becoming cosmos.
An image I find compelling to illustrate this—chaos becoming cosmos—is that of a prism refracting white light into an iridescent rainbow. The white light is that realm of pure potentiality, chaotic creativity. In Whitehead’s scheme the prism itself is God, that which refracts the indefinite into the definite, that differentiates pure light into the colors of the rainbow. Each color is an archetype—red clearly different from blue, yellow distinct from purple. But within the band of light that is each color an infinity of shades is at play. Every shade of green could be seen as every possible eternal object that could ingress as an expression of Venus, or every shade of blue the endless possibilities of Neptune. They are still the same light as the white light, but the prism—which could be identified with God—has ordered them into colors.
What makes a rainbow so spectacular? Why do we stop to take note of them? Because we can see them. A rainbow makes light itself visible. The rainbow is a symbol of divine possibility entering into the world, yearning for our participation in its beauty.
The moment a child takes her first breath can be seen as the first concrescence of that child independently of the mother’s body. The child herself is a society of actual occasions, each of which are also concrescing in this moment, making up the experience of the newborn. This moment, the first inhalation, is when the birth chart of an individual is set. The archetypal energies expressed throughout the rest of an individual’s life reflect the planetary configurations, the archetypal relationships, or eternal potentialities, of this particular moment. . As the child continues to live and grow, her subjectivity—the crest of her concrescing wave—continues to inherit the archetypally ordered actual occasions, as can be seen in the unfolding of astrological transits. Yet the birth chart is still effective, and can still be seen in the progression of the individual’s life. How can this be so? How can a past actual occasion, from the moment of birth, be more archetypally influential than other past actual occasions?
Let us return to the image of God as an eternally concrescing actual occasion, never perishing but continuously feeling the procession of the cosmic community of finite actual occasions. Perhaps in this understanding of God we can glimpse what may be happening in relation to the actual occasion when the individual’s birth chart is set. It is almost like the actual occasion that concresced with the child’s first intake of air is also an everlasting concrescence, one that continues from that moment forward. Each preceding concrescence takes place within the gestalt set by that first concrescence—which is how transits to the birth chart could be experienced by the individual. The birth chart is like the prism of that individual’s life, refracting the archetypal potential into the archetypal particulars of this person. That moment when the birth chart is set concresces onward, even beyond the bodily death of the individual. We see transits to the birth chart still being operative long after the person carrying that chart has died: for instance, when a renaissance of interest in someone’s work occurs after their death. As an example, (and please excuse my more technical astrological language for a moment) as this conference is being held Neptune in the sky is exactly crossing Whitehead’s natal Mercury-Uranus square, bringing a revisioning and reimagining of world view, which relates to Neptune-Uranus, to Whitehead’s ingenious philosophical system, which relates to Mercury-Uranus.
Like the dipolar nature of Whitehead’s God, the archetypes too seem to have a primordial pole and a consequent pole. The primordial pole orders the realm of eternal objects so that they can ingress as relevant possibilities into the actual occasions of the cosmic community, while the consequent pole feels the experiences of this world community and continuously adjusts the ordering of the eternal objects. So too, I believe, it is with the archetypes. For as they ingress into living manifestation, we participate in their becoming, we co-creatively engage their archetypal qualities through our own lives. The archetypes also have a consequent nature, one that feels what we feel, and that forever reshapes the potentialities for the future ingression of the archetypes, in our own lives and in the lives of future generations. Our participation is enacting an evolution in the archetypes themselves.
We are being called upon to seize an alternative. We are being called upon to participate. By consciously engaging with the archetypes as we co-creatively manifest them, we are reshaping the potentialities with which they will manifest in the future. No future is yet set. But the past occasions that will inform it are here now. A rainbow makes white light visible. Let’s look forward with eyes open.