Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
More Than Life & Death
This is a closely packed and idea heavy blog post so please read slowly, and chew slowly so you can digest it. This is also part one of a two-part blog that tries to move beyond the binary distinction of life and death.
Although in mundane life there is a value in making the distinction between the living and the dead, in broader terms these are but two colors in the wide spectrum of universal existence. If you look at yourself right now, the terms dead and alive as we know them begin to fail. Isn’t the outer layer of your skin dead? Your hair, your nails, the enamel on your teeth, much of your bones, and many other parts of you could be called dead. You would be in a sad state without them because they serve a function in that aggregation that you call yourself. Using the word inert does little to resolve the matter as well.
Perhaps what we call death is the breakdown of a specific aggregation, of an individual holon. In his book Ghost In The Machine (1967) Hungarian author and philosopher Arthur Koestler proposed the word "holon" to describe a basic unit of coherence in biological and social systems. The word holon is a composite of the Greek word holos, meaning whole, and the suffix on meaning particle. Although it was probably not Koestler's intention, I like the implication of a fundamental particle of life in the term holon. It brings to my mind images of particles like electrons, neutrons, protons, and all the other particles that make up the universe. Koestler observed that in living organisms and in social organizations there were no entirely self supporting, non-interacting entities. Every identifiable unit of coherent organization, such as a single cell in an animal or a species in an ecosystem, comprises more basic units (plasma and nucleus, food source and predator) while at the same time forming a part of a larger unit of organization (a muscle tissue or a niche in and ecosystem). A holon, as Koestler proposed the term, is an identifiable part of a system that has a unique identity, yet is made up of subordinate parts and in turn is part of a larger whole. Each holon is Janus-faced in that it looks inwards to give direction to lower components from which it is constructed and also looks outwards to higher (larger) holons of which it is a part and these holons give it direction and context. As you may have guessed this is the origin for the word holism as well. I think it is valuable to remember the origin of such a popular and important concept as holism. Since many either never knew or have forgotten the origin of the term holism, some of its utility and power has been lost as well.
The universe is one and is alive and all things are a part of the universe, so all things partake of its life. Everything, not just plants and animals and people, from a pebble to a star to a waterfall is alive and all that lives has a portion of the spirit that is the All. If it interacts, it has actuality in the manifest universe and is therefore a holon. This is not a foreign teaching to most of the readers of this blog. In fact animism and hylozoism are doctrines that are at the core of most systems of magick and esoteric cosmologies. Animism states that everything in the manifest universe is embued with spirit and/or soul. Hylozoism states that everything in the manifest universe is in fact a living thing. Many people would say that there is a no need for the concept of hylozoism since life and spirit are inextricably linked and are everywhere. It may be good to keep them as separate concepts as a reminder that soul, spirit, and life are not one and the same.
When it comes to naming and describing spirit or soul, we fall as woefully short as in our binary distinction of living or dead. Words, and their attendant contexts, like soul, spirit ba, ka, nephesh. ruach, neschamah, younger self, fetch, and all the others are once again but colors in the wide spectrum of universal existence. It is useful to consider how this spectrum that we call spirit expresses itself. Similar to the manner that a being’s actuality, its subtle bodies, are shaped by the plane(s) to which they are resident, the shape of spirit conforms to the plane(s) where it manifests. Consider the metaphor of the spectrum of light and spirit. Light remains light whatever color it may be but the frequency of that light determines some of its characteristics. When I use the words life and spirit or their cousins in my next blog, please hold in your thoughts that these words are but windows into a landscape that contains their fuller meanings. There does appear to be a difference between spirit and life, but their interdependence exceeds their differences. The debates on mind and brain or on nature versus nurture are but a pale and partial reflection of the inquiry into the matrix of spirit and life.
Life and death may be nothing more than holons, particles, in some larger construct that we call existence.
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