INTRODUCTION TO THE WORKSHOP ANIMISM AND PAGANISM: A TRANSVERSAL APPROACH
From September 29 to October 1 2023, an important workshop took place at the Labyrinth: Animism and Paganism: A Transversal Approach. This interaction consolidated the transcultural and ecosophical line inaugurated in 2018 in the context of the Alain Daniélou Foundation, not only owing to the intellectual quality of its participants (among others Graham Harvey, Barbara Glowczewski and Luis Eduardo Luna) but also to the broad spectrum of the discussions – a way of doing justice to the wide-ranging heritage of Alain Daniélou. Adrián Navigante’s introduction to the workshop provides a general picture of his embodied and pluri-dimensional art of thinking which was both the aim of the workshop and the main motivation in the Research and Intellectual Dialogue domain.
The following reflections are intended to frame the presence of workshop participants both in the genius loci of the Labyrinth and with regard to the type of work carried out in the Research and Intellectual Dialogue domain at the Alain Daniélou Foundation, which from next year onward will be enhanced and expanded with the creation of the transcultural and ecosophical center Interstices.
The Labyrinth as framework: Alain Daniélou referred to the figure of the labyrinth as a permanent wandering along twisted paths toward a center that is never reached. In a biological sense, we can say that we will reach the center the moment we die, and that the path toward the center is fixed from the very moment when we were born. Thinking metaphysically, we would determine the multiple spaces of the labyrinth (layers, paths, crossroads) as retro-projections of its center, which would lead us to say: “we have already reached the center, but we just ignore it”. But there is a third way of dealing with the question of the Labyrinth, which can be related to the tradition of śākta tantra. In that tradition, the cakra that acts as framework of the practice (where the adepts perform the ritual), is neither a diagram on a piece of paper nor an imaginary center in the body, but a field of multiple (human and non-human) forces with a subtractive center. The subtraction is no empty place, but the highest concentration of intensity – an intensity permanently distributed across the whole energy field in different degrees, some of which pose a challenge to those who encounter them. I tend to think that it was only with the enthroning of the god Shiva at the center of the mandala that the early Tantric dynamic changed: the center progressively became a metaphysical point, a nunc-stans, sometimes equated to notions like brahman or śūnyatā. Despite the affirmation that Shiva without Shakti is a corpse, liturgic and exegetic trends progressively marginalized or excluded those fluid spaces of ritual performance, encounters and transactions with the multiplicity of beings that characterized not only early śākta tantra but also other traditions containing similar ‘shamanic elements’ (the Atharva Veda is another good example of it). The mandala of śākta tantra is a de-centered labyrinth progressively changed out of recognition by a scholarly tendency (both in India and in the West) determined to undermine and even replace an immanent field of (chthonic) forces by a transcendent principle of (noetic) unity. Its orientations are reenacted and reshaped according to the degree of intensity with which non-humans affect humans. The thinking of Alain Daniélou, a Shaivite, has an undeniable śākta quality, because his “Shaivism” was neither a dogmatic article nor a research object. It was a living philosophy.
I am purposely using a South-Asian referent because this platform began as a space for Indo-European interactions. For my part, I have never been convinced of that delimitation (typical of the XIX century), and my research work at the archive of the Foundation has shown me that Alain Daniélou’s corpus is too heterogeneous to fit that axis, especially if one considers the writings of the last two decades of his life. It is precisely because of those writings that Indologists no longer took him seriously. The Hindu orthodoxy in the context of which he had studied for around fifteen years was no longer the focus of his interest; he wrote instead about pre-Aryan mythology in South Asia, the animist substrate of religious traditions (in India and Europe) and the connections between Hindu and West-African deities. He emphasized a return to (pre-Christian) ‘paganism’ and a ‘religion of Nature’ as the only way of surviving the crisis of the second half of the XX century. He even engaged in correspondence with Jacques Mabbit when the latter opened the Takiwasi Center in Peru, venturing some parallels between Yogic and shamanic practices in an essay that appeared in the first issue of the center’s publication (Revista Takiwasi N°1, 1992).
Alain Daniélou emphasized a return to (pre-Christian) ‘paganism’ and a ‘religion of Nature’ as the only way of surviving the crisis of the second half of the XX century.
Many factors have led to a change in our platform. The discovery of a transcultural amplification in Danielou’s later corpus, Amanda Viana de Sousa’s engagement with Amerindian traditions of Brazil, my intellectual collaboration with a Togolese anthropologist and Vodun priest, Basile Goudabla Kligueht, and the increasing awareness that a transversal method of the type we were trying to nurture is barely compatible with the logic of ‘special fields’ and ‘epistemic (self-)referentiality’. For this reason, we decided to get really philosophical and recapture those marginal intuitions of Daniélou in a new context, with a new vocabulary and with different actors. What does it mean, in this context, to ‘get really philosophical’? I have never conceived philosophy as the art of thinking to the point of eliminating all presuppositions (Plato), as the science of sciences (Hegel), or as universalizable ontology – even of a differential type (Heidegger). For me the task of philosophy has continually changed throughout history, and at present it is to a great extent related to what some authors (from Miguel Abensour in 1987 to Emmanuele Coccia and Pierre Charbonnier today) referred to as the ethnological challenge or disruption of philosophy. This began with Irving Hallowell in the 1960s and ended up systematically questioning, at the beginning of this century, the very basis of Western epistemology as hermeneutical access to ‘the other(s)’. Questioning that basis implies, among other things, seeing ourselves as ‘the others of the others’ to the point of an ego/ethno/logo-centric collapse, which would enable us to take seriously the possibility of a reversed ethnology (i. e. being ethnographically described by a Yanomami shaman as ‘people of the merchandise’). At that point, the whole theater of ‘high culture’ with all its particularistic affectations (in the past aristocratic and wielded by men of culture, nowadays bourgeois and clumsily brandished by ‘specialists’) must end. We must be capable of facing a new (trans-)cultural challenge requiring a structural change, even of our ‘existential register’.
There are some inspiring voices that emphatically approached the task of questioning bases and changing register: Pierre Verger, Hubert Fichte, Lluis Mallart, Lydia Cabrera, Maya Deren, Zora Neale Hurston. In reading such authors, I could follow a movement of the Human Sciences away from the reified objectivity of scientism toward a profound exploration of ignored or misunderstood modes of subjectivation. This was part of Felix Guattari’s ecosophical program, a movement that necessarily ends up focusing much more on ethos and aisthesis (than on logos and nous), feeding transversality. In a homonymous essay of 1964, mainly focused on the therapeutic space of psychiatric institutions, Guattari made two remarks which for me are translatable into any form of interaction of ideas – presupposing, as I do, that ideas are carriers of energy and not mere abstractions: 1. Transversality is neither related to pure verticality nor to pure horizontality, but rather to a maximal degree of communication between different levels and in different senses. 2. The consolidation of a transversal dynamics in a group implies that those who are usually confined to silence can find a mode of expression, and those who exercise discursive power are no longer fixed and unmoving in their dominant roles.
Over the last years, the domain of Research and Intellectual Dialogue has been trying to open a space for transversal interaction. This kind of interaction implies, as a first requisite, an ethos of hospitality. We want to see and get to know the human beings behind the work, and eventually the other-than-human beings accompanying them and co-creating their work. Our inclusion of Amerindian and West-African traditions in the last five years has demanded such work, as well as personal engagement on subjective processes that resituate us in the uncomfortable space of the liminal, the ‘between’, the interstices. It was in the context of that engagement and of our intellectual efforts to shape the institutional aspect of our work that we became acquainted, personally, virtually or through their published work, with authors such as Graham Harvey, Barbara Glowczewski, and Luis Eduardo Luna. It was out of that engagement that we continued to receive here at the Labyrinth people who contribute to the humble effort we are pursuing.
The workshop was originally thought out as an encounter with Graham Harvey on Animism and Paganism. We have been attentively following Graham’s publications on animism and shamanism as well as his engagement with contemporary forms of paganism. Graham opens a creative space to reflect on ‘animism’ as a complex phenomenon encompassing attempts to describe the Indigenous others, heuristic tools to transform the discourse of the Human Sciences, and ecological features within a specifically European phenomenon: that of the ‘Pagan revival’ in our time. His approach to paganism also opens a broad horizon going far beyond the question as to whether the Neo-Pagan reenactment of sacred ties with Nature among European groups can create an alliance with some forms of animism described by contemporary anthropology.
There are two very pleasant dialogical complements to Graham Harvey in this workshop. The first is Barbara Glowczewski, whom I have wanted to bring to the Labyrinth since a couple of years. Her writings are inspiring for the project we are pursuing mainly for two reasons: 1. The subjective dimension of her essays. Ethnological work is for Barbara something quite different from field work notes and objective descriptions of the culture under observation. The ‘alien culture’ she bears witness to, that of the Warlpiri in Australia, became her culture and her family. She is passionately involved from the first to the last line of her books, and that involvement transcends at the same time the individual experience – including the question of ‘going native’ (as a scholarly curse, a spiritual blessing, a prescription against intellectual imperialism or a mere impossibility). It is the program of a process of collective subjectivation that defies the way in which Western scholars write history. 2. Her intellectual and personal relation to Felix Guattari, the philosopher from whom we took the idea of ‘transversality’. It would be wrong to say that Barbara is merely an expert on Australian totemism. Her intellectual project goes much farther than that (as some of her books clearly show), and her reflection on animism adds a lot of nuances and components to what we have planned with Graham Harvey.
The second complement to Graham Harvey in the context of this workshop is Luis Eduardo Luna, whose pioneering study on healing plants among Mestizo Curanderos in Perú, Vegetalismo (1986), was an inspiration to many people – including some of the participants of this workshop. We have wanted to become acquainted with Luis Eduardo for some years now, since his work, not only his book on Vegetalismo, his extensive knowledge of Amerindian traditions, his critique of colonization, and his collaboration with the Peruvian healer and visionary artist Pablo César Amaringo Shuña, but also his project at the Wasiwaska center in Brazil, has made a lasting impression on us.
I am also grateful to the other participants who have accepted to come to the Labyrinth in order to discuss a subject that requires a combination of transdisciplinary and deconstructive insight, since the question of “animism and paganism” has been hitherto blocked – to a great extent – by a (prejudiced) tendency to link it exclusively with the most superficial dimension of alternative movements or with a purely historical object of study with no relevance for current socio-cultural issues. In this sense, much appreciated is the contribution of an anthropologist like Santiago López-Pavillard – whose research work on the transformations of Shamanism and his ample field-experience is known to us through former exchanges in the context of Intellectual Dialogue – and the presence of an eco-therapist like Adrian Harris – who is familiar with contemporary pagan movements and new forms of therapy defying the straitjacket of modern Western rationalism. The same token of gratitude goes to Andy Letcher, whose scholarly and experiential knowledge of British Eco-Paganism is inspiring for us, Viviana Lipuma, whose philosophical contribution to the question of ‘transversality’ is permeated by her systematic work on Felix Guattari, as well as to Linda Valle, one of the Foundation’s ex-grantees who is again back at the Labyrinth, and Molly Harvey, who has accompanied Graham on this occasion, and whose sensitive and empathic way of dealing with human suffering enriches our exploration of living subjectivities.
This workshop concludes a period in which our work appears as an extension of Alain Daniélou’s visible work – accessible both to the layman and to the specialist – with the aim of restituting its intrinsic value and its scope. It also inaugurates a period in which Daniélou’s secret body – that is, the animistic and pagan aspects of his living philosophy, inaccessible both to laymen and specialists – can gradually breathe the transversal air of our creative endeavors and face the real challenge of our century: not the technocratic mirage with its multiple disguises, but rather its reverse-side: the destruction of life on this earth and the precious few cultural attempts to preserve it.