Huldufólk: The Inhabitants of Iceland’s Faërian Realm

 

In the North Atlantic there is an island, and it is said that upon this island live two nations: the human nation of Iceland, and a second nation, one that is mysterious and veiled. This is the realm of the Huldufólk, Iceland’s “hidden people.”

This presentation, given at Esalen Institute in the autumn of 2016, offers a glimpse into the world of the Huldufólk and the dynamic landscape in which they live.

 

Imaginal Ecology at the Symbiosis Gathering

In September of this year I will be offering a presentation on Imaginal Ecology at the Symbiosis Gathering held at the Woodward Reservoir, California. For a description of my talk please see the Symbiosis website.

Symbiosis Gathering

Talking Tolkien and Jung on Rune Soup

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed by Gordon White, host of the London-based podcast Rune Soup. We discussed the synchronicity of the “Red Books” of Jung and Tolkien, as well as the role of the imaginal and the mythic in ecology. The podcast is available for download or can be listened to directly below.

Towards an Imaginal Ecology

This essay, originally written in May 2013, has now been published in the inaugural issue of ReImagining Magazine, a publication created by the Chicago Wisdom Project.

“To speak, to ask to have audience today in the world, requires that we speak to the world, for the world is in the audience; it too is listening to what we say.”[1] With these words James Hillman opens his essay “Anima Mundi” in which he speaks of the return of soul to the world. Such is the task we face as a species, as human beings, as we learn to cultivate a different kind of relationship with our planet, the Earth which supports our very existence. But what eyes can we use to see the soul of the world? What languages can we speak to call out to the anima mundi? With what ears shall we listen to hear the Earth’s voices in reply?

To read the rest of this article please see: “Towards An Imaginal Ecology

Imaginal Ecology

[1] James Hillman, The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc., 2007), 91.

“The Biology of Story” Now Live!

The interactive web documentary, The Biology of Story, created by Amnon Buchbinder, is now available online! The full website is fascinating to explore and has interviews with over one hundred individuals who speak about the many facets of story and the narrative tradition.

Becca Tarnas IndexMy own clips for the documentary are now accessible as well, exploring topics ranging from the imagination and ecology, to archetypal astrology, and my dissertation work on The Red Books of C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien. The full playlist of my videos is available here.

I encourage you to take the time to explore the many amazing offerings by the vast range of individuals the film makers have brought together!

 

The Final Pages of “Global Environmental Politics”

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.”
– Paul Hawken[1]

While the overarching theme of Paul Wapner and Simon Nicholson’s anthology has been the question of how to address the global ecological crisis, the last two sections that I read consecutively—Section 6: “Civil Society” and Section 9: “Political Imagination”—related particularly to the question of how to move forward from here. Now that we have the facts and the stories, what science and local knowledge can each tell us to the best of their abilities, how do we take what we know and truly begin to act upon it?

Global Environmental PoliticsThe relatively short section on Civil Society addresses the roles of non-government organizations (NGOs) and environmental groups, some of which are taking meaningful action and making positive impacts. But too many, as Johann Hari writes in his chapter, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” and as Naomi Klein unpacks in This Changes Everything, have succumbed to the temptation of corporate money and compromise their actions to please their polluting donors. If this is the direction many of the environmental organizations have taken, what hope is there really for making the changes that are required before ecological tipping points are crossed and the damage is essentially irreparable? It is this theme of hope that Paul Hawken addresses in his contribution, originally the commencement address given at University of Portland in 2009. “The most unrealistic person in the world,” Hawken says, “is the cynic, not the dreamer.”[2] The entire book also concludes with a commencement address given at Duke University by the great novelist Barbara Kingsolver. No matter how dire the world situation, a commencement address is always oriented toward hope for the future. For what else can one say to a group of young, newly empowered individuals, ready to contribute their gifts to the world? I sometimes wonder what the impact would be if all ecological literature were written in such a way, addressing it to those who not only have hope for a new future but ultimately whose lives depend on imagining a new course for history.

The power of imagination is the theme that concludes this anthology, with visions of a localized, bioregional economy that respects the unique gifts of each individual landscape as presented by Wendell Berry, to a civilization a millennium in the future constituted by small technological human “islands” surrounded with untouched wilderness described by Roderick Frazier Nash, to a hyper-controlled dystopia told in the fictional, narrative voice of Joanne Harris. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus put forward some well-argued critiques of the “ecotheological elite” and I could certainly recognize myself in some of their criticisms. But their ultimate conclusion that continuing modernized development with more nuclear power, desalinization plants, and genetically modified organisms will provide our “technological salvation” I felt utterly lacked the imaginal leap required. Yes, technology has a role to play in our future—how can it not at this point?—but falling back on those technologies that continue to poison the Earth and exhibit ever more control over other species and ecosystems will not be the ones that will bring about a future in which humans are in a reciprocal, mutually enhancing relationship to the planet. And yes, I recognize my own hypocrisy in writing these words on a computer powered by electricity and made from rare-earth metals, but I also recognize that we are in a time caught between worlds and turning futures, and that every day is a new opportunity to figure out what of the old world we are leaving behind and what of the new world we are creating from what we have been given so far.

Some of the visions presented in this concluding section I felt were hopeful and worth striving for, while some were utterly terrifying, and others a combination of both. What I appreciated was that the authors allowed themselves to dream a radically different world, no matter what it looks liked. As I have said elsewhere, imagination is a great gift to ecology, one whose eternal wellspring we can all draw upon. No single vision will shape the future. Thus we each have the responsibility to drink deeply from the imaginal stream, and live forward those dreams of a thriving future that are bestowed upon us.

Work Cited

Nicholson, Simon and Paul Wapner, ed. Global Environmental Politics. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015.

[1] Paul Hawken, “The Power of Environmental Activism” in Global Environmental Politics, ed. Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2015), 191.

[2] Hawken, “The Power of Environmental Activism,” 191.

Towards An Imaginal Ecology: Presentation for PCC Integrative Seminar

As the final part of the Integrative Seminar, the capstone course of the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness master’s program, I gave this presentation as part of a day-long seminar with twelve of my fellow graduates in May 2013. The accompanying paper can be found here, and a shorter introduction is available here.

Integrative Seminar Symposium Flyer

Towards an Imaginal Ecology: A First Glance

“The imagination is a tree. It has the integrative virtues of a tree. It is root and boughs. It lives between earth and sky. It lives in the earth and in the wind. The imagined tree becomes imperceptibly the cosmological tree, the tree which epitomizes the universe, which makes a universe…”
– Gaston Bachelard[1] 

California Sunset

Imagine a stream, choked, murky gray, oiled surface, sunken deep below the watermark-stained banks. Feel deep within your soul the hopelessness of this place, the deadening of your senses to the despair of the river. Allow your imagination to fill with the river’s pain. Now, slowly, begin to imagine those waters rising, gradually at first, then more and more quickly, flowing first as a muddy trickle, widening into an onrushing stream. Bulbous plants begin to flourish along the banks, setting roots into the silted bottom. Filth becomes food, the waters begin to run clear. Light, once again, sparkles on the rippling surface. Fish return. What has allowed such a transition to occur? A re-imagining of purpose.

The imagination plays many roles in our practice of ecology upon this exquisite, blue and green celestial gem we have named Earth. As our planet suffers the ravaging destruction of industrialization and the consumptive growth of human greed, humanity is beginning to re-imagine its purpose in relationship to the Earth. The imagination is a multifaceted gift to ecology, one that can connect us to both our past and future, that can connect us with spiritual strength and moral empathy, that allows us to see our human role in an enchanted cosmos. The imagination is the eye of the soul, a bridge between the rational mind and the physical world, the opening of a realm in which the true beauty of the anima mundi can be revealed. Aspects of what could be called “imaginal ecology” can be glimpsed throughout the work of Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, Christopher Bache, James Hillman, Theodore Roszak, David Abram, and many other thinkers; it resounds in the poetry and philosophy of the Romantics, Transcendentalists and German Idealists. Imaginal ecology flourishes in the articulations of the enchanted realm of Faërie penned by J.R.R. Tolkien, and other fiction writers whose work reveals the enchantment of the realm in which we live.

The moral imagination of which Macy speaks can allow us to situate ourselves in the experience of other beings, whether ancestors of our past, or plants and animals, ecosystems of our current Earth, even beings of the future. Through imaginal practice we can hear the needs of others and recognize them as our own. Macy writes, “The imagination needs to be schooled in order to experience our inter-existence with all beings in the web of life.”[2] We can gain spiritual and psychic courage by seeing with the imagination’s eye into our potentially dire future. The work of Bache allows one to envision such a future while learning to cultivate the spiritual center needed to stay grounded in such an unstable time. The grief and despair work of both Macy and Bache lay a solid foundation in reality that can act as the fertile ground from which creative solutions can sprout and flourish.

Imagination can carry us back through time to the flaring forth of our cosmos, and as we experience the unfolding of our universe our own role as human beings becomes clearer. As Swimme and Tucker write, “Every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting upon itself.”[3] Such a realization can reorient our actions into a more harmonious relationship to the Earth as we recognize that we also are the Earth in relationship to ourselves.

Because we are the cosmos in human form, the pain of the world is expressing itself through our human pains, through our pathologies and diseases. The work of ecopsychology practiced by Hillman, Roszak and others, which itself could be seen as a form of imaginal ecology, seeks to engage in the healing of the soul of the world, the anima mundi.

Abram suggests that the imagination exists not only in the human but in the Earth and the cosmos itself. The imagination of the Earth is diverse, and varies from region to region like the landscape, affording various insights and ideas that differ by location. Abram writes,

There are insights we come upon only at the edge of the sea, and others we glimpse only in the craggy heights. Some prickly notions are endemic to deserts, while other thoughts, too slippery to grasp, are met mostly in swamps. Many nomad thoughts migrate between different realms, shifting their habits to fit the terrain, orienting themselves by the wind and the stars.[4]

Our ability to create and sustain our existence, to imagine the future, is wholly dependent on this creativity gifted by the Earth.

The creative works of many authors and artists can serve ecology by offering a “recovery,” as Tolkien writes, giving us the opportunity of “regaining a clear view”[5] of the enchantment inherent to the world in which we live. They offer a view of a fantasy realm, which Tolkien calls Faërie, crafted out of the materials of our everyday world, just as the painter’s or sculptor’s materials are drawn also from nature.[6] Yet fantasy allows us to see these primary ingredients in a new way, once again marveling at the wonders of our own world.[7] Tolkien shows the overlap between our world and Faërie when he writes,

Faërie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.[8] (Emphasis added.)

Faërie could then be seen as the real cosmos but without the human, or rather, without the disenchanted human. Fantasy—expressed through any art form, from literature, to painting, to sculpture—allows us to look again at our own world with new eyes, for as Hillman writes, “We pay respect to it simply by looking again, re-specting, that second look with the eye of the heart.”[9] The role the imagination can play in ecology is to unlock the doorway to this realm, our own cosmos, and re-enter as re-enchanted human beings, reflecting on themselves in the form of the universe.

Bibliography

Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. 2010.

Bache, Christopher M. Dark Night, Early Dawn: Steps to a Deep Ecology of Mind. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 2000.

Bachelard, Gaston. On Poetic Imagination and Reverie. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc. 2005.

Berry, Thomas. Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 2006.

–––––. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 1988.

–––––. The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. 1999.

–––––. The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2009.

Hillman, James. The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc. 2007.

Macy, Joanna. World As Lover, World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2007.

Roszak, Theodore, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner, ed. Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books. 1995.

Swimme, Brian and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Journey of the Universe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

Swimme, Brian and Thomas Berry. The Universe Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 1994.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Tolkien Reader. New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group. 1966.


[1] Gaston Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie (Putnam, CT: Spring Publications, Inc, 2005), 85.

[2] Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2007), 112.

[3] Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Journey of the Universe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 2.

[4] David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2010), 118.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966), 77.

[6] Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories,” 78.

[7] Ibid, 77.

[8] Ibid, 38.

[9] Hillman, The Thought of the Heart, 129.