Like the changing miracle of nature itself, it is interesting to watch pumpkin spice season arrive on Twitter.
Pumpkin spice is not quite a thing in the UK outside London hipster circles because -and I was warned about this by MMTP before I moved there- pumpkin itself is historically considered pig food. It was only in the last couple of years you would see anything other than the truly boring butternut squash in west London supermarkets. (And half of them are described as ‘carving pumpkins’. What monsters!)
The Australians, as with most of the New World, commit no such crimes against deliciousness and there were proper pumpkins aplenty when I arrived at Midwinter. But I am not moving into pumpkin spice season. At this very moment, I am drinking Campari in the sunshine of my yard as the mid-to-late summer plantings start roaring to life around me.
Last weekend we spent time in the town of Orange, in the central west of the state, doing a DIY vineyard tour/accidentally drink driving. (See the main image of the post.) We go through the agricultural land on the other side of the river to me and up and over the Blue Mountains to get there. For a variety of reasons (visiting a cider orchard) we’ve been up in the mountains every weekend and it has been joyous to see the place burst to life like the onset of a psilocybin trip.
I suppose when we talk about Harvest or when we talk about Spring we are talking about the movement and changing state of stored life. An accident of history has meant we in the west have not had this discussion in official circles for quite some time. But not as long as you maybe think:
[T]he triumph of dualist ontology began with the Protestant Reformation. Medieval Catholics used hovering angels, howling devils, and other automata in churches as forms of religious theater. These figures infused matter with spirit. In the medieval imagination, they became “holy machines” and signs of human closeness to the spiritual world, sources of amusement as well as awe. Protestant reformers, intent on separating the divine and material realms, emptied the machines of spirit and made them targets of iconoclasm. By the 1600s, machines were associated with dead matter, devoid of spirituality.
René Descartes stepped in to save spirit from flesh, but not by denying flesh agency. His notion of the body as an animal-machine, Riskin writes, left it “warm, fluid, responsive, mobile, sentient, and full of agency”—and yet wholly distinct from the soul. Aristotle had postulated three souls: the vegetative, the sensitive, and the rational, with only the last immortal and divine. Writing in the mid-1600s, Descartes dismissed the first two souls and made the rational soul peculiar to humans. This conceptual move created a modern, autonomous self with an objective, God’s-eye view of the physical world. The severing of soul from body marked a departure from the traditional Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, but the unintended consequence of Cartesian dualism was even more significant: by stressing the uniqueness of the human soul, Descartes’s followers drained the vitality from the rest of creation.
Despite the rising prestige of passive mechanism, not everyone was persuaded. Leibniz was one of the skeptics. To him, nothing lacked a soul; what he called vis viva, or living force, was a metaphysical principle, without which (he believed) nature was unintelligible. Leibniz wanted a fully mechanical account of nature that included this active force, anticipating a tradition in physics that culminated in Hermann von Helmholtz’s concept of energy in the nineteenth century. Leibniz traced the source of matter to perceiving spirits he called monads, which were “brimming with life and sentience in every part.” As Riskin writes, for Leibniz “the tiniest particle of matter contained whole worlds of living beings.” Everything in the cosmos was in a state of flux, flowing like a river. Amid the flow “certain souls rose ‘to the degree of reason and to the prerogative of minds.’” Leibniz’s active mechanism included “the generation, over time, of a thinking mind.” Consciousness arose from animated matter.
To Voltaire and other dogmatic rationalists, this was all romantic nonsense, but in fact, Leibniz’s thinking was compatible with some of the leading ideas in natural philosophy during the middle and later eighteenth century. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, observed an “active power” at work in nature—the tendency of living organic matter to organize itself. Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather, advanced the notion of a vibrant, growing cosmos where living organisms, including humans, could be the result of a gradual process; nature could be a kind of self-renewing machine; and humans had sentient self-development in common with the rest of brute creation. “Go, proud reasoner, and call the worm thy sister!” Darwin wrote in Zoonomia (1794). Neither he nor Buffon nor their other proto-evolutionary contemporaries viewed humans as the unique culmination of a linear, progressive process. About progress, they were agnostic.
The weight of these observances -particular in light of the cultural expressions listed below- is no small thing to cast aside on the way the ‘celebrating’ an Edwardian imagination’s version of what the ‘seasonal festivals’ of Southern England might be like. This is the very essence of returning animism to the Big Table. It has nothing to do with egalitarian tribal structures or how often you talk to non-human persons such as your pets. (Both of which are worthy of study, experience and examination, of course.)
Where this dovetails with the current magical -and specifically western European grimoiric- Renaissance is, inevitably, in the Protestant divide that Jesse spoke about on a recent episode of the show, which is also referenced in the above quote. (I bought the book based on this article. Ask me about it in a month.)
Animism returns to/arrives at the Big Table when it understands the historical aberrations that have led to its banishment as a legitimate and robust model for all of reality (see the above quote) by models that simply aren’t as good at actual modelling. Whenever I write a post about this I get comments along the lines of “been thinking about animism for a while” or something about people’s pets. That’s all well and good but Big Table is describing, not feeling. End of. For a chaos magic, it works or it’s out the door. It gets no special treatment just because we like it.
And I want to emphasise that the life force/food thing never ‘went away’ in that dumb version of twentieth century activist history where ‘patriarchal Christianity suppressed it’. This is Caedmon’s Hymn, composed in Britain around 680 AD:
Praise we the Lord
Of the heavenly kingdom,
God’s power and wisdom,
The works of His hand;
As the Father of glory,
Wrought the beginning
Of all His wonders!
Warden of men!
First, for a roof,
O’er the children of the earth,
He established the heavens,
And founded the world,
And spread the dry land
For the living to dwell in.
This hymn was named for a lay brother in a monastery who was ashamed of his poor singing ability, as the brothers were all required to sing before meals. One evening, he hid in a barn to avoid singing before the meal and fell asleep. During his sleep he had a vision that called him by name and bade him sing. Caedmon said “I cannot sing, therefore I left the feast.” The voice told him “Sing to me, however. Sing of Creation.” The above is the hymn that Caedmon sung. The next day, he sang it for the brothers and they all agreed it was a gift from God. (It is also a Magonian experience -verging on an alien encounter- I note.) And it emerges as a playing out of Creation in the context of making food sacred. It is thus a resonance with and acknowledgement of the Creator in the Created.
Staying in the heady days of the seventh century, we have the -now famous- Gregorian chant; Veni, Creator Spiritus.
Ascribed to Gregory the Great, this is the translation:
Creator Spirit, by whose aid
The world’s foundations were laid,
Come visit every pious mind.
Come, pour thy joy on human kind.
If I didn’t know this was a medieval hymn, I probably would have guessed Polynesian. (‘Pious’ is the giveaway, of course.)
Consider Caedmon’s hymn in relation to this Iroquois Six Nations song:
He left it for us.
Something that should be for the people’s happiness
They will be strong in body from it.
He left us all this food.
He scattered this over all the Earth.
Now we will give one thanks.
That he has left us all this food to live on.
On this Earth.
This is the way it should be in our minds.
Spreading of the earth, minds, etc. An overlap between all three. Dripping with the context of centuries of celebration and Harvests and Plantings and hopes and dreams.
There is a secret in all this and it relates to the Big Table quest. Restoring the intervening two thousand years of fuller engagement with the ‘life’ in life is better that reinventing a borrowed indigeneity palatable to the post-industrial west. (Otherwise why hasn’t that worked yet?) It’s like the Culture Department of the Big Table organisation or something.
And there are ways we can begin to participate in that project. Such as going through this collation of Bill Mollison videos that Geoff Lawton put together after Bill passed, where we glimpse what ‘science’ might have been had not the above bifurcation happened. Here’s a good one, cued up, that tangentially relates to the ‘active power’ pull quote at the top of the post via its description of where design fits in nature:
There are other ways too, such as changing how you think about ‘weeds’. (I’m surrounded by dandelion. We sowed around them.)
And then there’s the simple act of pausing and thinking about how many Harvests and how many Sowings have gone on right across this squishy oblate spheroid we currently call home. And how the daily engagement with it is an act of communion with each other and all non-human persons.
One last ‘patriarchal, nature-hating Christian’ observation, this time from Father John Giuliani of Connecticut:
Bless our hearts
to hear in the
Breaking of bread
The song of the universe.
Enjoy your pumpkin spice everyone.