Few of us have not heard of, or seen, The Matrix. A film that mixes the ultimate ideals of cyberspace with religious and mythological imagery, it is seen as pure fiction. But fiction has a habit of coming true.
Many would scoff at such an idea. Religious hog-wash has no place in the modern technical world. But I would argue our innate spirituality will recur in every society and culture – even the most atheist, materialist and technological.
The first religion was arguably the animist.
Seen in ancient tribal societies throughout the world, everything had a spiritual reflection. This included animals, rivers, mountains, and even the weather.
This was so because the physical world had a spirit world running parallel to it. This world was accessed through the hysterical rituals of the shaman, who would enter, and commune, with the spirits in trance.
This is why most ancient gods were animals.
Eventually, however, the chimera appeared – a god that was half animal, half man. This indicates that spirituality had shifted position.
Whereas the first religions were very much nature based, as man’s society advanced, religion passed through to society, with men coming to be seen as divine, first as animalistic themselves, and eventually fully man-gods.
A parallel spirituality was still evident.
But now the man-gods who populated the parallel spiritual world were symbolized in mythology, represented agriculture, and had their homes in the stars.
With the birth of Christianity, this was to change. The physical and spiritual worlds were always interactive. But in Christ, this interactiveness was denied, until death. The Christian had to be very much in the real world, his place in the spiritual afterlife decided upon by his deeds in this world.
||Paganism, however, continued the interactiveness.
This developed into the western occult tradition, where the witch and adept continued to access the parallel world. And it was to have mass popular expression once more with the arrival of Spiritualism.
Eventually, intellectuals began to look at the parallel spiritual world. Most famous among them was Carl Jung, who devised the ‘collective unconscious’, populated by ‘archetypes’ previously seen in mythology.
The new expression saw the parallel world in terms of our inner psychology.
It was our mind that was parallel to the physical. And if so, then all peoples of all times share a kind of universal psychology that will always express itself.
Thus we come to today. And as the internet gains ground, and ideas of cyberspace arise, can we see the collective unconscious reasserting itself with a technological parallel world alongside the physical?
We are already beginning to see cyberspace as a fantasy-laden realm separate to the physical, and we are filling it with all the symbolism that traces itself throughout our spiritual history. The parallel world of our ancestors will, it seems, be reborn wherever we have the imagination to conceive it.
© Anthony North, April 2008
The term animism (from Latin anima (soul, life) commonly refers to belief systems that attribute souls to animals, plants and other entities, in addition to humans. Animism may also attribute souls to natural phenomena, geographic features, everyday objects and manufactured articles. More generally, animism is simply the belief in souls. In this general sense, animism is present in nearly all religions. British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor argued in Primitive Culture (1871) that this belief was the most primitive and essential part of religion. Though animism itself is not a religion in the usual Western sense, some scholars believe that it contains the foundations on which religions are built.
Theories of Origin
The justification for attributing life to inanimate objects was stated by Hume in his Natural History of Religion [Section III]: "There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious."
Psychiatrist Sigmund Freud thought that "primitive men" came up with the animistic system by observing the phenomena of sleep (including dreams) and of death which so much resembles it, and by attempting to explain those states. Freud regarded it as perfectly natural for man to react to the phenomena which aroused his speculations by forming the idea of the soul and then extending it to objects in the external world.
Although the soul is often distinguished from the vital principle, there are many cases in which a state of unconsciousness is explained as due to the absence of the soul. In South Australia wilyamarraba (without soul) is the word used for insensible. So too the autohypnotic trance of the magician or shaman is regarded as due to their soul's visit to distant regions or the netherworld, of which they bring back an account.
Sickness is often explained as due to the absence of the soul and means are sometimes taken to lure back the wandering soul. In Chinese tradition, when a person is at the point of death and their soul believed to have left their body, the patient's coat is held up on a long bamboo pole while a priest endeavours to bring the departed spirit back into the coat by means of incantations. If the bamboo begins to turn round in the hands of the relative who is deputed to hold it, it is regarded as a sign that the soul of the moribund has returned (see automatism).
More important perhaps than all these phenomena, because more regular and normal, was the daily period of sleep with its frequent fitful and incoherent ideas and images. The conclusion must have been irresistible that in sleep something journeyed forth, which was not the body (see astral travel). In a minor degree, revival of memory during sleep and similar phenomena of the sub-conscious life may have contributed to the same result. Dreams are sometimes explained in animist cultures as journeys performed by the sleeper, sometimes as visits paid by other persons, by animals or objects to the sleeper. Seeing the phantasmic figures of friends at the moment when they were, whether at the point of death or in good health, many miles distant, may have led people to the dualistic theory. But hallucinatory figures, both in dreams and waking life, are not necessarily those of the living. From the reappearance of dead friends or enemies, primitive man was led to the belief that there existed an incorporeal part of man, which survived the dissolution of the body. The soul was conceived to be a facsimile of the body, sometimes no less material, sometimes more subtle but yet material, sometimes altogether impalpable and intangible.
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