Before 800 B.C. the thinking on the whole planet, no matter the continent, was invariably tribal, cosmic, mythic, and ritualistic (according to German philosopher Karl Jaspers). Owen Barfield calls it “original participation.” Simply by watching the sky, birds, and trees, the seasons, darkness and light, people knew they belonged. Though we call these people uncivilized people, many conjecture that they might have had healthier psyches than we do because they lived in an inherently enchanted universe where everything belonged, including themselves. And they knew that simply by listening and by observing and living! (Almost too simple.) The cycles of darkness and light, of growth and death, fertility and fecundity—which were everywhere all the time—were their primary and natural teachers.
Why do we call them uncivilized people? The very word “pagan” is a dismissive word meaning “those who live in the country.” We thought by moving into so-called civilization, into cities, we were better and smarter, and maybe we were in some ways. But they perhaps were in other ways! Native peoples learned of the divine, the sacred, God, through the natural world. They already saw the Great Spirit in everything, as Pope John Paul II said to the natives gathered in Phoenix some years ago. Religion was much more about healing and harmonizing than sin management. Salvation wasn’t a reward you got after you died for good moral behavior, but as the very root word (salus) reveals, it was a healing and harmonizing now. This had the power to make the world a much more livable place than we have made it.
Adapted from Soul Centering through Nature: Becoming a True Human Adult
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