Green Hermeticism

Who drew this?

The Brooklyn Rail ran a great discussion between Souljerky-fave Peter Lamborn Wilson, David Levis Strauss, and Christopher Bamford on "Green Hermeticism" —a smart effort to infuse a (much needed) spiritual dimension into today's popular Green movement. Convincingly, they assert that this is not only a great idea, but absolutely necessary. In order to create a greener, sustainable world, we must engage with Nature as a living, breathing (through prana yo), intelligent being that deserves our respect and adulation. Furthermore, Hermeticism's famous maxim, "As above, so below," also known as the law of the Macrocosm and Microcosm, is essentially non-dual. As Sri K. Patthabi Jois likes quote, "What one sees with the eyes, that is thine own Self. What one here's with the ears, that is thine own Self."

The parallels to yoga continue. Notoriously, the hermetic alchemist "transmutes" base metals into gold, while yoga works to transmute the body (or perhaps merely our sense organs), and thus our experience, from a base state into something radiant and golden.

Alchemy (and thus Hermeticism) maintains a unique character amidst all the world's great religious movements yet it also enjoys a rich and polyamorous affair with all that it encounters, including (but not limited to) Islam, Christianity, Gnosticism, Taosism, Tantrism, Buddhism, and even Science). In todays global village, where globalization, appropriation and exoticism are awash in a world ruled by War and Greed, Green Hermeticism inspires smart and savvy approach to engaged living that is uniquely modern, yet intrinsically traditional. It's also a path that's neither East nor West, but both. And neither.


Strauss: So what is Green Hermeticism, and why is it arising now?

Wilson: The name arose during this conference, and I don’t remember who first said it, but it immediately struck everybody as an idea whose time had come. We all agreed that there is not a sufficient spiritual focus for the environmental movement. And without a spiritual focus, a movement like this doesn’t generate the kind of emotional energy that it needs to battle against global capitalism—that for which there is no other reality, according to most people. It should be a rallying call of the spirit for the environmental movement, or for as many parts of that movement as could be open to it. Harvard University Press just did this whole series of books on religions and ecology: Taoism and ecology, Islam and ecology, Christianity and ecology . . . . The good thing about Hermeticism is that it could fit into any of those religious categories and it could appeal to those people who are not part of an organized religion and would never want to be, but who are at least open to the idea of the spirit, because what Hermeticism has to offer is that it is not a religion, and it’s not a science. It can’t be reduced into any of these categories. The only category that it can be included in is the one that it gives itself, when it calls itself “art,” but of course they didn’t mean art in quite the modern sense.

Strauss: They meant practice.

Wilson: They meant practice, yes. But it’s good that we think of it as an art, because an art could belong to Buddhism as much as to atheism. It could belong to Taoism as much as to Islam, to Christianity as much as to shamanism.

Bamford: That raises a very fundamental question. Certainly, Bateson’s point of view was taken up by a number of scientists like Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana, who brought a kind of Buddhist epistemology into what still remained basically a biological scientific vision. At the same time, the actual study and practice of alchemy also began to take hold in the interstices of the spiritual subculture—not with any idea of science in the ordinary sense but to try to understand the thing itself. In retrospect, and here is the interesting question, it’s not clear whether you can make a leap or bridge from a scientific mentality to a Hermetic one; that is, whether conventional science can somehow become Hermetic, or whether—this not being possible—we are going to have to create a new science-art-spirituality working out of alchemy and Hermeticism on their own terms, thus renewing and re-imagining for our time the ancient sacred science of nature. In other words, perhaps it is in the nature of the project that the bridge will have to be built from Hermeticism to a new kind of science rather than from conventional science to Hermeticism.

Who drew this?

Wilson: Well that’s what Green Hermeticism will be about, as opposed to traditional Hermeticism, although intellectually there wouldn’t be much difference at all, especially if we could include Beuys amongst out precursors. The only difference would be in regard to the question of practice, and indeed of activism. That’s why, again getting back to what I think Green Hermeticism is, I don’t think it’s anything at all if it’s just theory. It has to be a combination of theory and practice, otherwise it’s nothing. It’s no more than yet another intellectual trip about Hermeticism, which may or may not be interesting. But without the practical side, it simply doesn’t exist.

Strauss: And what else do you imagine in that practical realm?

Wilson: Well, not being a laboratory spagyrist or a scientist, it’s a little presumptuous of me, but I was fascinated by the whole idea of bioremediation which is a big subject these days, including in the arts; or the work of people like Paul Stamets, with myco-remediation. I find it absolutely riveting, and it seems to me that if you could contextualize this kind of activity within the intellectual framework of Hermeticism, you might conceivably have a very powerful epistemic weapon or tool.

As a writer, and we’re all writers, the temptation is to look upon the Green Hermeticism book as the real product here, but I continually struggle against that, or the conference as the product, or even the academic course as the product. That’s not enough. If there isn’t a garden, if there isn’t a laboratory, if there isn’t a bioremediation project, if there isn’t something that can move into the real world as well as the intellectual world, it isn’t enough.

One reason that Chris and I are so interested in Hermeticism is that it’s the western way, without not being the oriental way. I mean, since Hermeticism exists in Islam, and Hinduism, and even Taoism, it’s also the oriental way. It seems like the way which doesn’t get in the way of anybody else’s way. Which seems like a real advantage, possibly. That it’s not only Buddhism, or only Christianity, or only secular science. But it could be all those things together with an overarching, unifying imagery.

Bamford: What’s fascinating about the whole alchemical, Hermetic picture is that it is absolutely universal and goes right back to the beginning—to the primordial revelations, to the first prophet or shaman. How could it be otherwise? Humanity has its being in nature, on earth, under the stars. Therefore nature, the earth, and the stars are common to all spiritual traditions and cultures. Every spiritual tradition and religious epoch has its sacred science, that is taught by nature. All traditions have an alchemical or Hermetic cosmological aspect.

Strauss: Built into Hermeticism is a sense of revival, of going back as far as you can go to bring things forward.

Link.

For more details: Buy the book. Check out last year's conference. Or attend a day-long worky shoppy in NYC.

Image credit: Not sure, I lifted it from here. Any guesses?

Remarks

1 total remarks for this post. Add your own remarks below.

Wed 09 Jan 2008 at 11:52AM

Chris Schoen

Holy synchronicity, Batman! I just got Gregory Bateson's Epistemology of the Sacred in the mail this week. (Haven't started it yet).

This is great stuff. See my gushing here.

I'm a little skeptical that the word "sacred" can be revived, having so many negative connotations among reactionary secularists ("sacred cows," etc.) But the principle obviously persists. As PLW points out, "reason" is just as sacred to rationalists as God ever was to the religious. What's less apparent is how quickly these rationalists would remember how sacred earth, air, and water are if we started to run out of them. Which we will if we continue to treat the cosmos as subservient to our fantasies of dominance.

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First and foremost our gratitude goes out to Astanga Yoga New York & Sri Ganesha Temple, without which the Sri Ganesha Tea & Book Stall would never have incarnated. Secondly our deepest respect and praise goes to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. We are also indebted and inspired by the efforts of Namarupa Magazine. For further inspiration, check out our links. test

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Credits

Foremost credit goes to my wife Erin for her tireless patience + support of this endeavor. Thanks to Barry Silver for the artwork in the above banner and for his friendship, to Robert Beer for the illustrations. Thanks to Eddie Stern for his ongoing support and for providing inspiration. Thanks to my fellow farmers at One Digital Farm for help growing this.

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