6 Apr 2009

The Soul of the Cosmos: Shepard, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Ch.4, subsection 4

Paul Shepard

Coming Home to the Pleistocene

Chapter IV: How the Mind Once Lived

Subsection 4

The Soul of the Cosmos

Our ancestors hunted. The "act of killing and facing one's own death" raised "intense emotional and philosophical problems." (61b)
It is right to kill and be killed in this "game" of the hunt so long as we understand the transformation of life and death as a natural consequence of the gifting cosmos where one receives and gives and in the final hour finally passes the gift on. When that clarity is lost the hunt becomes monstrous, along with the rest of nature, and we remove the killing to a butcher's abattoir. (61b)
Their practices of gathering and hunting structured their broader view.
Gathering and hunting are the economic basis of an intricate cosmology in which epiphany and numinous presence are embodied and mediated by wild animals, plants, mountains, and springs. (61b)
Hunter's had their own way of conceiving the cosmos. Stanner called it "the dreaming." The universe is a moral system made-up of three components: marvels, species diversity, and institutions.
Marvels refer to that presence of the unexpected that one always encounters sooner or later in nature, particularly when the terrain reflects something about the mind that implies a common structure. (61c, emphasis mine)
We understand the world around us metaphorically. So our natural taxonomies provide us conceptual tools. And our morality is built on these systems. This is the element of 'species diversity' in the hunter's cosmogony.

are what humans create most successfully, based on stories of origins, as analogies to the structures that bind the species into marvels of affinity. These are the keys to reality, revealing how things are, what is known, and how to behave. (61-62)
Tales give commentary on society's underlying principles, and provides models for morality. Some tribes of Australian aborigines have developed some of the most complex and sophisticated metaphysical systems, despite their stone-age technologies.
This cosmogony -- how the universe became a moral system -- is nothing like an Athenian skeptical philosophy but is a continual, visionary, intuitive, poetic understanding, an ahistoric abiding. There is no quarrel with life. Their metaphysic assents to what men have to be because of the way their life is cast. (62b)
Civilized societies feel superior to nature. But the cosmography of certain tribal cultures expresses humility toward the natural world. The animals know more than we do. And all the world around us is besouled.

Shepard, Paul. Coming Home to the Pleistocene. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998.

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