Science In A Golden Age

From satellite-enabled GPS to hi-tech medical procedures – much of today’s modern science builds on the work of great thinkers from the past.

But while the names Newton, Galileo and Copernicus are well known, just who were the scientists who came before them – in the Golden Age of Islamic Science?

Iraqi-born theoretical physicist Jim al-Khalili takes us on a journey of discovery, unravelling the links between the latest scientific developments and the unsung scientific heroes of the past.

Science in a Golden Age – Astronomy: The Science of the Stars

Science in a Golden Age – Astronomy: The Science of the Stars Imagine trying to make sense of the universe before telescopes were even invented. Jim al-Khalili reveals how scholars from the Islamic world played a crucial role in astronomy and navigation, influencing later astronomers in the renaissance. In this episode of Science in the Golden Age, we examine ancient maps dating back to the 9th century at Istanbul’s Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam. In the Qatari desert, Ali Sultan al-Hajri, a businessman and Bedouin, shows how the moon and stars have played a crucial role in navigation and timekeeping for centuries. Going through an extensive collection of astrolabes – versatile scientific instruments that could be considered as the ‘computers of their day,’ we get a rare chance to see the inner workings of this complex device as one of the most elaborate astrolabes at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha is taken apart. Moving from ancient astronomy to the most cutting edge developments in space science, we examine the life of al-Tusi, a great astronomer whose work influenced later astronomers including Copernicus, the renaissance scientist who formulated the model of the universe that placed the sun at the centre and the planets rotating around it. In this episode we also discover how the Persian astronomer al-Biruni devised an ingenious method for calculating the circumference of the earth, which allowed him to come up with an incredibly accurate estimate, within one percent of the accurate value we know today.

Science in a Golden Age – Chemistry: The Search for the Philosopher’s Stone

The chemical industry has reshaped the modern world – giving us new fuels, drugs and materials. But the methodology and principles of chemistry go back over a thousand years. Between the 9th and 14th centuries, there was a Golden Age of Science when scholars from the Islamic world, like Jabir Ibn Hayyan and Al-Razi, introduced a rigorous experimental approach that laid the foundations for the modern scientific method. In this episode of Science in a Golden Age, theoretical physicist Jim al-Khalili leads us on an exploration of just how these scientists began the process of transforming the superstition of alchemy into the science of chemistry. He begins by unpicking the medieval obsession with alchemy – the effort to turn common, less valuable metals into gold. He looks into the work of Jabir Ibn Hayyan, a polymath who grew up in modern-day Iran and who is credited with applying an experimental-based approach to early chemistry. Through his determined efforts to dissolve and transform metals, Ibn Hayyan learnt much about acids. Together with Professor Hal Sosabowski from the University of Brighton, Jim looks at the reaction of gold with aqua regia – a powerful combination of acids that Ibn Hayyan discovered. Following on from Ibn Hayyan’s work, chemists like Al-Kindi and Al-Razi furthered the development of scientific practice, basing their work on careful experiments and observations. Their obsession with accuracy was what qualified them as being amongst the first true scientists. Jim shows us the ‘Mizan Al-Hikma’, an intricate set of scales built by a scholar by the name of Al-Khazani in the 12th century. What set this piece of equipment apart was not just the beauty of the craftsmanship, but the exacting precision it delivered. The chemical processes developed by the Islamic scientists were motivated by numerous factors – one of which was the requirements of Islam itself – for example, the washing of the hands, face and feet before prayer. This requirement for cleanliness quickly led to the development of whole industries – like the production of soap. The first solid bars of soap were manufactured in the Islamic world and Jim looks at how alkalis helped develop the soap industries of the Golden Age. From Jabir Ibn Hayyan to Al-Kindi to Al-Razi, this episode covers the works of some of most prolific and influential chemists of the Golden Age and tells the story of how the evolution of modern chemistry began.

Science in a Golden Age – Al-Razi, Ibn Sina and the Canon of Medicine

We explore the links between medical research in the Golden Age of Science and the modern practice of medicine today. Standing in one of the largest neo-natal units in the world at Hamad Hospital in Qatar, you would not immediately be able to draw a link between the pioneering medical research being conducted and the work of physicists from the 9th century. In this episode of Science in the Golden Age, theoretical physicist Jim al-Khalili guides us through a journey of discovery where he highlights the links between medical research in the Golden Age of Science during the 9th and 14th centuries and the modern practice of medicine today. At Hamad Hospital, a new treatment is being trialled for babies born with a neurological disorder called neo-natal encephalopathy. Senior consultant Dr Samawal Lutfi explains how the double blind placebo control method ensures the accuracy of the study. This notion of a control group goes all the way back over a thousand years to a Persian physician by the name of Al-Razi who built the first hospitals in Baghdad. He was an early proponent of applying a rigorous scientific approach to medicine and used a control group when testing methods to treat meningitis in the 9th century. At Harefield Hospital in the UK, we meet Professor Magdi Yacoub, a pioneering transplant surgeon and one of the world’s leading heart specialists. Professor Yacoub explains how the 13th century Syrian scholar Ibn al-Nafis redefined the understanding of pulmonary circulation. He challenged the commonly accepted wisdom of the Greek scholar Galen, who had said that blood passes directly between the heart’s right and left ventricle through the septum, the dividing wall that separates them. Ibn al-Nafis put forward the idea that blood could not pass directly between the right and left chambers of the heart – and that the lungs had a role to play in this process. Ibn al-Nafis’ description was not widely accepted at the time, and it wasn’t until his manuscript was re-discovered in the 20th century that his work was universally recognised. From Al-Razi, to Ibn al-Nafis, to the 10th-century philosopher and physician Ibn Sina, Jim examines the most influential medics of the Golden Age. He shows us his personal copy of Ibn Sina’s Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb (‘The Canon of Medicine’), a comprehensive text which was the pinnacle of medical knowledge at that time. It was widely copied and translated, becoming a standard medical reference across the world for centuries. Jim ends his journey at the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, learning how the institute is using the latest equipment to map the human genome. The genome is the complex genetic code contained in every one of our cells and sequencing it can reveal possible diseases that are inherited. Focusing on genetic and hereditary diseases specifically affecting the Qatari population, scientists from around the world have come together to work on this ambitious project that some-what parallels Baghdad’s Bayt al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom), the renowned centre of learning that played an integral role in the Islamic world’s scientific advancement.

Science in a Golden Age – Optics: The True Nature of Light

laying a vital role in our everyday lives, technologies based on light are in use all around us. From art and science to modern technology, the study of light – and how behaves and interacts with matter has intrigued scientists for over a century. This year, 2015, marks the 1,000th anniversary of the Kitab al-Manazir (The Book of Optics), a seven-volume treatise written by the Iraqi scientist Ibn al-Haytham – a pioneering thinker who’s views have been crucial to our understanding of how the universe came into existence. Shaping our understanding of vision, optics and light, Ibn al-Haytham interrogated theories of light put forward by the Greeks – men like Plato and Euclid who argued that the way we see objects is by shining light out of our eyes onto them. Ibn al-Haytham argued instead, and correctly, that the way we see is by light entering our eyes from outside either reflecting off objects or directly from luminous bodies like candles or the sun. His methodology of investigation, in which he combined theory and experiments, were also remarkable for their emphasis on proof and evidence. In the first episode of Science in the Golden Age, theoretical physicist, Jim al-Khalili, looks at state-of-the-art applications of optics and traces the science of light back to the medieval Islamic world. Al-Khalili recreates Ibn al-Haytham’s famous ‘camera obscura’ experiment with stunning results and also uncovers the work of Ibn Sahl, a mathematician and physicist associated with the Abbasid court of Baghdad. According to a recently discovered manuscript, he correctly described “Snell’s law of refraction” centuries before Dutch astronomer Willebrord Snellius was even born. We also look at the work of Ibn Mu’adh, who brought together knowledge of optics and geometry in order to estimate the height of the atmosphere.

Science in a Golden Age – Pioneers of Engineering: Al-Jazari and the Banu Musa

From the Iraqi Banu Musa brothers of the 9th century, to the Andalusian engineer Abbas Ibn Firnas, to Al-Jazari who lived and worked in the 12th century – Jim Al-Khalili guides us through the work of the engineers and innovators of the Golden Age of science (9th – 14th centuries). He looks at state-of-the-art robotic engineering and studies the history of early automatic machines. He unpicks the engineering principles behind the incredible trick devices of the Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century, and is shown a modern reconstruction of their ingenious ‘flute that plays itself’. In Istanbul, Jim is shown the intricate clocks and sophisticated water pumps designed by 12th century engineer Al-Jazari. And he analyses the claims made of Abbas Ibn Firnas – who supposedly managed to get airborne all the way back in the 9th century.

Science in a Golden Age – Al-Khwarizmi: The Father of Algebra

From fast cars and aeroplanes to computer encryption – mathematics underpins so much of modern life. In this episode, Jim Al-Khalili uncovers how, between the 9th and 14th centuries, mathematicians from the Islamic world helped mathematicise science and lay the foundations of algebra. He looks at the modern mathematics behind flight, and behind the record-breaking fastest car in the world, tracing the route back from these achievements to the legacy of the Persian mathematician Al Khwarizmi. We also discover the role that the Islamic world played in giving us the modern numeral system that we take for granted in everyday life. And, in the Sulemaniye Library in Istanbul, Jim uncovers a rare text by Al Kindi – perhaps the world’s earliest mathematical code breaker.

Another look on history

The dramatic story of the Crusades and World War One  seen through Arab eyes.

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

World War One Through Arab Eyes


The fossil fuel industry’s business model is to externalize its costs by clawing in obscene subsidies and tax deductions—causing grave environmental costs, including toxic pollution and global warming. Among the other unassessed prices of the world’s addiction to oil are social chaos, war, terror, …

  • The Caliph, 3 documentaries by Al Jazeera

For almost 13 centuries, from the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 to the overthrow of the last Ottoman caliph in 1924, the Islamic world was ruled by a caliph.

Translated from the Arabic ‘Khalifa’, the word ‘caliph’ means successor or deputy. The caliph was considered the successor to the Prophet Muhammad.

It is a term that has, at times, been abused.

In June 2014, a militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (known as ISIL or ISIS) declared the establishment of a caliphate and proclaimed its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a caliph. This proclamation was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims.

ISIL had attempted to appropriate a title imbued with religious and political significance – and in doing so had cast a dark shadow over a rich history.

This is the story of the caliph, a title that originated 1,400 years ago and that spanned one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.

In this episode of the Caliph, Al Jazeera tells the story of the caliphate, providing a fascinating insight into how the first caliphs of Islam built and expanded their empire.

Lady with the Unicorn

The fame of the tapestry series entitled “The Lady with the Unicorn” comes both from the simplicity of its composition and the depth of its mystery. The charm of the Lady and young Lady accompanying her, the placidity of the mythical, exotic and familiar animals, the background decorated with trees bearing fruit and thousand of spring flowers give the impression of a poetic world imbued with strong sense of serenity.

The whole set was created at the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century, probably at the request of a nobility family, the coat of arms of which can be found on each of the tapestries. The creation and realization were probably entrusted to a workshop from the Master of Anne of Brittany. After an eventful journey, the six tapestries ended up in 1882 in the Museum of Cluny in Paris. The relationship between five of the tapestries and the five senses, by A.F. Kendrick in 1921, has notably improved the comprehension of the series. The last tapestry, entitled “My sole desire”, was interpreted as a “sixth sense” and gave rise to many commentaries. This “sixth sense” is usually interpreted as a “sensitive intuition” that lets us “feel” things.


The tapestries are presented in a sequence in accordance with the medieval hierarchy of the five senses. The sense hierarchy the most frequently seen in the texts from that time is based on their more or less proximity with the soul. That is in increasing order: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing and Sight, all crowned by My sole desire.







My sole desire

Now, the soul represents, at the individual level, an intermediary domain between the physical and spiritual ones. The soul is the individual reflection of the Principle at the source of all things, the Unity that governs the world. It consequently depicts a unifying principle of the various aspects of the being in general and his five senses in particular. A principle that is impalpable, without taste or odour, inaudible and invisible and not accessible by the sensitive way. In fact, only the immediate and direct way of intuition, beyond the simple sensation of feeling something, can give access to the principle knowledge. All the ambiguity of the meaning of the sixth tapestry results from the withheld approach: the strictly sensitive way of the physical being or the supra-sensitive way of the soul proper to the truly human being.

When manifested, the Principle successively actualizes the spiritual, psychical (including the individual soul) and physical aspects. Being a matter for the soul domain, the sense integration principle precedes the appearance of the five physical senses. Conversely, when the ordinary being follows the reversed way, he integrates the various aspects of his person, starting with the most physical, the five senses, which are resorbed into their unifying principle. Note that this double movement of descent and ascent, metaphysical and cosmological, can be found in all the traditional forms, including medieval.

  • The coat of arms common to the six tapestries

The abundant presence of heraldry in the whole set of tapestries naturally evokes the chivalrous world, the courtly love and the willingness to assert one’s belonging to a noble line. Nevertheless, beyond the social importance, the repetition of the coat of arms on all six tapestries also has a symbolic meaning that illuminates the whole set.

The coat of arms is displayed in different forms: a shield, small shield or targe, standard, banner and cape with the coat of arms. The coat of arms represents three crescents argent (silver) on a bend azure (blue) on gules (red).

It shows a waxing Moon (Waxing moon) with the exception of the cape with the coat of arms worn by the lion in sense of taste (see the picture on the left) where the Moon is waning (Waning moon). The same waning Moon can equally be found at the back of the standard in sense of smell. Although the waxing Moon is more visible in accordance with a rising vision towards light, the waning Moon is nevertheless present at the back of the standard and banner. It follows that the coat of arms and the beings carrying them are related to the Moon phases.

Just as the Moon waxes, wanes and disappears before reappearing, the being is born and dies before his re-birth. To the obscure and luminous periods of the Moon correspond the death to certain being’s states and the re-birth in other states of higher order. These state changes principally cover three types of birth:

  • Physical giving rise to the ordinary being;
  • Psychic (and individual soul) at the origin of the proper human being;
  • Spiritual at the source of the supra-human being.

These three births correspond to the three Moon crescents. The first two are related to the ordinary and human nature of the individual and come within the lunar sphere. The third one, of supra-human nature, surpasses the individual order and gives access to the cosmic, indeed supra-cosmic order; the being leaves the lunar sphere to enter the solar sphere. In fact, the true light, the spiritual light can only emanate from the Sun for the Moon does nothing but reflect the solar light. To paraphrase a known saying, if Moon is silver, Sun is golden.

It follows that:

  • The lunar light is a reflected, cool light, without heat, associated with reflection, individual reason and characterized by blue colour;
  • The solar Light is a true, warm, radiating light that gives access to the supra-individual knowledge emanating from the heart and linked to red colour.

As it is necessary, the solar sphere (red) includes the lunar sphere (blue) for the lunar sphere is subordinated to the solar sphere.

The five first tapestries refer principally to the senses, attributes of the ordinary being, and come within lunar sphere alone. Regarding the last piece, it shows the way towards the solar sphere as we will see afterward. Note that the standard and banner poles appear in each tapestry and carry a horizontal crescent (Horizontal crescent) in a cup form.

In the medieval tradition, the cup is destined to receive a unifying element that contains all the others in a undifferentiated state, at the principle state. In a descending movement, the integrated principle is manifested notably under the appearance of the five senses; in an ascending movement, the five senses are resorbed into their principle state, i.e. unified.

  • Mythical, exotic and familiar animals

The lion and the unicorn

The association of the lion, emblematic animal, with the unicorn, mythical animal, is frequent in the heraldic and medieval symbolic. The lion is generally sitting or standing on his hind legs with forelegs outstretched, the mouth open and a tongue sticking out. As for the unicorn (from the Latin “unicornus”), it is mostly represented as a bearded horse carrying a spiral horn on its forehead.

The reddish brown mane encircling the lion’s head symbolizes the terrestrial reflection of the celestial body, the Sun. As a producer of light and heat as the heart within the human body, the Sun is the life symbol in all its fullness, i.e. not only physical, but also psychic and spiritual. The lion is the image of the perfect mastered energy, of the sovereign force and whole power symbolizing at once royalty and Wisdom in the animal world. He does not need to show his claws to show his force.

The white unicorn is on the contrary associated with Moon. As the lunar light is only the reflection of the solar one, the unicorn depicts the feminine, passive principle counterpart of the masculine, active principle represented by the lion.

Of course, the Moon only shines through the Sun, but the Sun can only manifest his active aspect through its relation with the passive Moon. Just as the valiant knight only shines in the eyes of the noble Lady, the masculine principle is only manifested through the feminine principle. Only the manifestation of the oppositions masculine/feminine, active/passive, light/obscurity etc. allows the human being to overcome them and rejoin the world of Unity, the Principle at the source of all things. The double ascending and descending movement between the worlds of Unity and duality is represented by the spiral horn of the animal or rather by her both horns wound around each other as a braid. These two movements operate alongside a vertical axis that we rediscover in the standard or banner pole, the trunk of the trees or the pole carrying the circular pavilion.

The respective positions of the lion and unicorn on each side of the Lady underline the duality of the terrestrial world. The lion or the Sun is associated with full light or South and the unicorn or the Moon with obscurity or North. It follows that the Lady is facing East, the sunrise, the being’s elevation from the terrestrial horizon to the celestial zenith.

The other quadrupeds

The animals play an important role in heraldry and medieval world. The species covering the background dotted with flowers are familiar, wild or exotic: lamb, goat, hare, monkey, lion cub, young unicorn, panther, cheetah, dog, fox and wolf?

The lamb (in Taste) represents the active, luminous, solar principle that sacrifices his unitary origin in order to be manifested in all beings and in all worlds. Although, it is always essentially One and contains all beings and all worlds at a principle state, it externally appears as multiple. This is why, there are two lambs in the world: an inalterable one, standing in the immutable; the other sacrificed, fragmented and divided among all beings. The first is located in the Heart of the World, the second in the heart of men.

The lion cub (in Sight) and the young unicorn (in Taste) prefigure the animal carriers of the coats of arms. They symbolize both poles of the manifestation of the Principle, of the Unity under its various aspects (masculine/feminine, active/passive, light/dark, hot/cold etc.). That shows that the series of the Lady with the unicorn is not limited to a simple figurative representation of the senses, but suggests a movement, a dynamic of the evolution of the world and being.
As the lion and the unicorn, the hare (in Sight) appears in all tapestries. As a nocturnal animal, it is associated with the Moon, the symbolism of which is ambivalent. Its waxing phase corresponds to the ascent towards light, knowledge; his waning phase depicts the descent towards obscurity, ignorance.This ambivalence is underlined by the background colour of the animal, divided in almost equal proportions between blue and red. Overcoming this dilemma means getting out of the lunar sphere (blue) to reach the solar sphere (red). In other words, it is a matter of dying to the states of the ordinary (synonymous of ignorance) and even human being to be re-born in the states of the spiritual being (fully conscious). The symbolism of the wolf, fox and other nocturnal animals comes under the same ambivalent character.

If the wolf decimates the animals bred by man, the dog (in Sight) is the flock guardian which protects from danger. It is undeniably the earliest domesticated animal and the faithful companion of man in his most noble activities, hunting notably. Besides, most of the animals represented in the Lady with the unicorn have a more or less direct connection with hunting. Now, this activity (associated with nobility at that time) takes on two symbolic aspects. On the one hand, the animal death symbolizes the destruction of the wild nature of the being, of his inner devils, of his obscure side. On the other hand, the pursuit and game tracking looks like a spiritual quest, a search for light in the depths of the forest.

In contrast to the eastern tradition, the Christian and medieval tradition perceives the monkey (in Taste) in a negative way. It appears as the manifestation of the basic instincts of man, lust and of malice notably. Endowed despite all with a certain consciousness of the phenomenal world, it is recognized for its imitation faculties. The tapestries of Touch, Taste and Smell make such good use of this tendency that we could sometimes wonder if it is not rather man who monkeys about.

The birds

The birds usually play the role of messenger between Heaven and Earth. Various species (magpie, heron, hawk, partridge, pheasant, parrot and duck?) are displayed on all tapestries except one, Sight. The fact is surprising for an animal with a unequalled visual acuity. Nevertheless, the omission is not as astonishing as it appears. In fact, some traditions have gone as far as comparing the “birds in Heaven” to the “superior being’s states” i.e. to the states belonging to the world beyond, invisible in the eyes of simple mortals.

The preceding comparison is even more valid for hawk, the most represented bird in all pieces. As other birds, it is woven on a red background, the warm colour of the sunrise. It often symbolizes (with the eagle) the masculine and luminous principle, Sun, counterpart of the feminine and dark principle, Moon, associated with hare.

  • Trees and flowers

Sessile oak, orange-tree, pine and holly

The six tapestries are decorated with two or four trees bearing fruit (sessile oak, orange-tree, pine and holly). The fruit contains seeds destined to be disseminated. The seed represents the germ, the grain source of a multitude of other trees. It symbolizes the primeval Unity, the Principle of the manifestation of all the beings and all the things. The inalterable character of Unity is notably underlined by the evergreen foliage (orange-tree, pine and holly) or the extreme longevity (sessile oak) of these trees


        Oak       range tree    Tree of Life     Holly           Pine

Tasting the fruit of the tree leads the being either to rediscover his spiritual original nature or to find his human or ordinary condition according to the tree nature:

  • The Fruit of the “Middle tree” erected at the “World Centre” or the “Tree of Life” located in the middle of the terrestrial Paradise confers to the being who tastes it the access to eternal life, to immortality proper to the spiritual world;
  • The fruit of the “Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil”, also situated in the garden of Eden, sends the one who tastes it back to his condition of ordinary being and to the duality of the temporal world.










Now, the ordinary being passes most of his existence, if not the totality, away from the Centre he is coming from and towards which he is called back. He can rediscover it, after number of tests, in order to taste the fruit of the “Tree of Life” and recover his original unified state. Conversely, the being that eats the fruit of the “Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil” must leave Paradise, abandon his unified nature and discover his condition of ordinary being. That is the meaning associated to Adam’s banishment from Paradise and the fall. This is the moment when Adam acquires “knowing good and evil” (Genesis III,22), i.e. starts considering all things from the duality point of view.

Wild and cultivated flowers

The flower setting evokes the hanging patterns in medieval civil residences. Woven with the greatest care, this flower carpet constitutes a seedling of around forty species representative of the flora at that time. It is divided into:

  • Wild flowers from fields and woods (columbine, aster, digital, wallflower, hyacinth, daffodil, marguerite, lily of the valley, daisy, periwinkle, Veronica, violet etc.);
  • Cultivated flowers (jasmine, carnation).

Beyond its specific meaning, the flower symbolizes the feminine, passive principle of manifestation. It represents the receptacle, the cup destined to receive the masculine, active influence alongside the vertical axis notably depicted by the pole of the banner or standard. In this respect, it is similar to the horizontal crescent woven on the same pole.

Moreover, the blooming flower also portrays the development of the manifestation in all its diversity, a diversity represented by the flower variety and the number of petals.

This double meaning, as receptacle and development, is particularly true for the emblematic flower of the Middle Ages, the rose, appearing in the fence of Taste. The influence of Heaven is often symbolized by the “celestial dew” dropping from the Tree of Life and manifested into the variety of flowers, colours and perfumes.

It is particularly interesting to observe that this development is more obvious for wild flowers, symbols of the surrounding nature, than cultivated flowers, product of the medieval culture. The latter are in fact less numerous and carry five petals only depicting the five senses. The petals are placed around the chalice, heart of the flower symbolizing the “sixth sense”.

  • “My sole desire”

The motto

Written at the top of the pavilion, the motto “My sole desire” is inserted between the two letters A and probably I or Y.

Would this motto be used as a link between two initials ? It seems to be really the case. At first, the three words of the motto are separated by two groups of five points so as to form a whole. Next, the motto is separated by a point from the first letter and two points from the second. The union of these two initials belonging to two beings is not my dearest wish, but my supreme, my ultimate, my unique, my only, my sole desire. Who can speak like that except the consignee(s) of the series of the six tapestries. Is it the couple itself or a close parent ?

This hymn to love would perfectly fit with the exacerbation of the five senses underlined by the presence of animals and plants in the series. And “My sole desire” could crown the whole set. Then, it would be easy to go on and on about the event continuation.

Nevertheless, the union of two beings that deeply love each other also symbolizes the union of the masculine and feminine natures within the couple. A union that tries to restore the unified, primeval or Edenic state preceding the fall. A fall that corresponds to the manifestation of the variety of beings and senses. The passage from the unified to the duality world, since the original state, is a necessary step to experience the senses and to become aware of the lost reality. If we give credit to Aristophanes in Plato’s mouth, love would be nothing but an attempt to rediscover the lost unity through the frantic quest of the soul mate. See The double meaning of the Androgyne.

Is the Lady this soul mate ? Is she ready to rejoin the one she loves in the pavilion ? Or else, is she in quest of this lost unity ? Will she rediscover the primeval state where the being no longer sees a world filled with antagonisms, but complementarities which are melting into Unity. Indeed, duality does not belong to the manifested world, but to our perception of that world. As long as we stay divided inside ourselves, we will not be able to accept the world as it is and ourselves as we are in reality, that means unified. The moment however we overcome our sensitive perceptions, go back against the original flow, attain the integrating principle governing our senses and become aware of the Unity ruling the world, all fears, cravings and illusions attached to our dualistic perception of things and beings are flying away. We are ready to leave the world of senses to rediscover the unified state of senses and being. We are ready to go back home, to leave the outer world to re-discover our inner world symbolized by the pavilion.

The pavilion

The pavilion immediately strikes the observer by the emptiness filling it. Emptiness reflects the non-manifestation of beings and things, the potentialized source, the Unity at the origin of everything in this world.

Even the central pole carrying the pavilion canvas is invisible. The pole represents the link between the big top of the pavilion, symbol of the celestial vault, and the ground covered with flowers and portraying the terrestrial world. Descended, the pole symbolizes the terrestrial manifestation of all beings and all things contained in the celestial Unity; ascended, it depicts the being ascension from his ordinary or terrestrial condition to the spiritual or celestial states.

It follows that:

  • The way out of the pavilion corresponds to the way of the manifestation of beings and discovery of senses symbolized by the Lady carrying the necklace to her neck;
  • The way into the pavilion expresses the return path from the outer experience of the senses towards the inner experience of the being described by the Lady getting rid of her jewels.

Representative of the World Axis, the pole rises to the zenith, the peak of the sun. It symbolizes the solar beam carrying light and irradiating the whole pavilion inside. The pavilion opening portrays the passage between the darkness of the midnight blue of the outer world and the light of the golden yellow of the inner world, between the lunar and the solar world and vice versa.

The Lady is still outside the pavilion. She may be ready to leave the world of senses, but only so she can reach the level of their integration. In contrast to the senses that only come within the bodily and outer domain, their integrated state borders on a relatively inner domain. It follows that even after having entered inside the pavilion, the lady will still be in the lunar sphere depicted by the blue ground. The elevation towards superior and spiritual states, alongside the Axis symbolized by the invisible pole, requests to go beyond the sole domain of the individual soul to reach the domain of the Soul of the World.

Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness

Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness
by David Catherine

We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgements; more experts but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but we have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we have less communication. We have become long on quantity but short on quality. These are the times of fast foods, but slow digestion; tall man, but short character; steep profits, but shallow relationships. It is a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.

Dalai Lama

We live in a time of immense social, psychological and environmental change. Enrapt by politically heroic (and yet unsustainable) solutions; multi-national research bias; “PowerPoint” presentation charts (aspiring to ninety-degree trend-lines); new “World Records” on “BREAKING NEWS!”; precision-guided missiles; broadband uploads / downloads on hyper-threaded CPUs (with “the world at our fingertips”); “think-tank” video conferencing; post-human bio-technology; “Scientifically Proven!”; “NEW!”; “NOW!”; “WOW!”; “Wi-Fi” mobile connectivity; “That’s Entertainment!”; “must-have” manufactured needs; Celebrity TV; Pop-Quiz Game-Show; high-speed car chases with guns blazing; “Wrestle Mania;” “Da Vinci” porcelain veneers; “heroin-chic” anorexia on fashion cat-walks; silicone sunsets on Miami Beaches – and munching on a cheeseburger delivered by a clown in a yellow and red costume, to the theme tune of “We are the Champions” – it seems as though we are sufficiently desensitized to the extreme realities that surround us.

“What-eh-va!” is fast becoming our most admired and most broadcast catchphrase. If the corporate boardroom doesn’t get to us first, we can be sure that the product packaging or the metrosexual fashion-police will. No-thanks to the latest in pop-psychology, it is clear that hyper-entertainment and hedonism are gaining ground as prescription for our current malaise; regular doses of this medication are enough to distract anyone who might sense any madness in global affairs. It appears we are so high on “YES!” we have forgotten the value of “No.”

Having worked in environmental support and observed the wanton destruction of nature and its associated ecosystems (intricate feed-back systems integral to human survival on earth), I am undoubtedly concerned as to the future of all things natural on this planet. However, I am equally concerned about human perception, the paradigms or technologies that shape our perception, and the degree to which this perception impinges on the outer world. Like many others I have come to realize that an ecologically “sustainable” future cannot be achieved merely through Environmental Law, Protected-Area Management and the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Parallel to these undeniably important and laudable disciplines, it is essential that we move towards an understanding and rehabilitation of consciousness – the reality of which will be briefly discussed in the introductory chapter that follows. If, according to the most progressive fields of study, human consciousness is shown to be interconnected and interdependent with the natural world and thus natural order, then a significant part of the ecological crisis – if not the primary cause – is the way in which we view the natural environment; how we perceive of, or ascribe value to, nature and cosmos.

Thus, ecological stability is invariably related to the degree of ontological stabilityand integrationwithin human consciousness. It is within this context of globalization, a deteriorating natural environment and a crisis of consciousness, that “Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness” [hereafter referred to as NTRC] has been produced. NTRC is a continuation on themes already developed in the works of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (In the Beginning was Consciousness; Religion and the Order of Nature), Martin Lings (Symbol and Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence), Tom Cheetham (Green Man, Earth Angel: The Prophetic Tradition and the Battle for the Soul of the World), William Anderson (Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth), René Guenon (Fundamental Symbols); Frithjof Schuon (various works) and – as relates to the cosmology of self and soul – Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri (The Journey of the Self; Witnessing Perfection).

NTRC is not intended to be a polished thesis – in fact the author is not an academic – it aims to bring awareness to certain contemporary issues and to stimulate discussion on the themes presented. In appealing to a wide spectrum of readers, there may be some who feel the work fails to effectively address ecological issues, owing to the inclusion of spiritual, metaphysical or mythical principles; or conversely that it fails to honour the Divine Absolute by expounding secular ecosystemic thought (or is perceived as promoting ‘pantheist’ ideals). There is no satisfactory answer, other than (for the scholars), “We are all still learning;” and (for the religious), “We are all returning.” In order to highlight the essential reality of divine order, it has become necessary to use terms such as “supra-sensory,” “meta-historical,” “supra-rational,” “trans-personal,” etc.

Please note that this is not an attempt to repudiate the senses, historical record, the rational mind, or the personal self; neither is it to imply that the divine order is a distant and/or disconnected state. On the contrary, prophetic tradition speaks of divine presence and has indicated that the “Ground of Being” (i.e. pure consciousness) is “nearer to [us] than [our] jugular vein.” On this point, the perceived distancing factor between the conditioned self and the unconditioned Spirit is considered proportionate to the degree of “egotism” of the self.9 If an image in a mirror seems vague or impossible to discern, this may be due to the extent of the layers of dust obscuring the image / mirror. To polish the mirror or to clarify the lens of perception is to bring into view and into proximity, that which was thought to be far. Hence, human proximity or remoteness to the divine reality must be considered from a qualitative perspective and not reduced to a quantitative “nearness” or “distance.”

  • Cosmological order

Cosmological order, and thus the order of nature, has long since been considered as sacred theophany (The Book of Nature) by the saints, sages and prophets of Divine Order. Seyyed Hossein Nasr defines theophany as, “a symbolic showing of God [i.e. the Divine Attributes] in the mirror of created form.” Since humans are considered to be the barzakh (interspace) between the heavens and the earth – as well as being the stewards of cosmological order – one can only conclude that an ecological depreciation must reflect a distortion in human perception/behaviour: a failure to attain correct cognition of who we are, where we are, where we come from, and how we should behave on this currently fragile planet.
“Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness” [NTRC] explores human society’s alienation from, and disregard for, natural order and the resulting ecological /
climatological crisis that has ensued.
Expounding on concepts and principles of theophany, interconnectedness, interdependence, equilibrium and harmony, NTRC argues that roots of our various socioenvironmental crises lie primarily in a (human) crisis of consciousness. In
order to resolve our ecological dilemmas, therefore, we cannot simply rely on the
enforcement of environmental legislation and a rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems: parallel to these commendable disciplines, we need to move towards an understanding and rehabilitation of consciousness itself.
This includes developing a knowledge of self that is attuned to Divine Presence, that is
ontologically transformative, and thus ultimately grounded in the unified Divine Absolute:
Pure Consciousness (rûh al-quddûs) – the sacred centre of Being. In light of the necessity of this ontological recognition (dhikr) and alignment (Islam), it can be deduced that it will not be possible to find any political, social, religious or ecological reconciliation, if we cannot first learn to reconcile our personal, limited, conditioned self (nafs), with the trans-personal, eternal, unbounded and unconditioned Spirit (rûh): the prototypical pattern for any and all reconciliation. God-willing.


Creation, Symbol and Archetype

The Nature and Purpose of Existence-The Cosmology of the Self -The Journey of the Self – Symbol and Archetype

Interconnectedness, Equilibrium and the Green Signature

The Green Signature

Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness

The Ecological Crisis – The Psychological Crisis -The Essential Self

In Search of the Green Man

The Mother Goddess and her Son / Lover – Dionysus & Skanda-Murukan – Khidr-The Green Man in Europe – The Quest for the Green Woman

The Green Lion, the Philosopher’s Vitriol and the Emerald Grail

Nature, Theophany and the Rehabilitation of Consciousness: reasd Here

Tales of Winter – The Art of Snow and Ice

Winter was not always beautiful. Until Pieter Bruegel painted Hunters in the Snow, the long bitter months had never been transformed into a thing of beauty. This documentary charts how mankind’s ever-changing struggle with winter has been reflected in western art throughout the ages, resulting in images that are now amongst the greatest paintings of all time. With contributions from Grayson Perry, Will Self, Don McCullin and many others, the film takes an eclectic group of people from all walks of life out into the cold to reflect on the paintings that have come to define the art of snow and ice.

See more The Art of Snow and Ice

  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow  by Rachel-Anne Johnson

It is a bleak winter’s day as the hunters return to the village. The dogs are weary, though the hunters’ catch is meager. Outside an inn, peasant women stoke a large fire, as a man brings a wooden table outside, both activities in preparation for the singeing of a fattened pig whose meat will be stored for the long winter months. In the town below, a woman hauls firewood across a snow-laden bridge while across the pond, a cart, fully loaded with wood and kindling, makes its way through the village. In contrast to these labors that must be completed to survive the season, the majority of the villagers are making the most of the day on frozen ponds at the foot of the hill, skating, curling, and playing hockey. Beyond them, in the distance, jagged cliffs cut through the frozen flats, shielding a riverside town from the onslaught of snow that presses in from the right. On the edge of this town, the river is frozen over, and figures venture on foot and with carts from its frozen banks.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow of 1565 is an imaginative and thought-provoking image of a winter’s day. It was produced as part of a series of landscapes that depict the seasons of the year, often referred to as the Months, which also includes The Gloomy Day (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), Haymaking (Lobkowicz Palace, Prague Castle, Prague), The Harvesters (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Return of the Herd (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna).

Spring: The Gloomy Day

Summer: Haymaking

Late summer: The Harvesters

Autumn: The Return of the Herd

Winter: The Hunters in the Snow


On one level, Hunters in the Snow depicts the traditional labors for the months of December and January. In medieval prayer books, calendar illuminations depicted the labors and activities appropriate to certain times of year. December was characterized by singeing the pig and January by hunting motifs, conventions that were well- established by the sixteenth century and present in almost every illuminated manuscript from the Bruges workshop of Simon Bening, the most likely precedent for seasonal imagery with which Bruegel would have been familiar.

Bruegel includes different aspects of hunting in the image by depicting the group of hunters and dogs in the foreground, the inn that they pass on the left whose sign references St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, and a bird-trap in the left middleground.


The slaughter of a pig is a conventional motif for December, while singeing the pig is typical for January. Though no pig is present in Bruegel’s winter landscape, this progression of activity is suggested by the large fire on the left and the man carrying the table outside, which could represent the next stage – quartering the animal.

On another level, however, there is much more going on in Bruegel’s image than these traditional activities, and the composition raises a number of questions regarding how contemporary viewers would have understood Hunters in the Snow. Why at this time does Bruegel monumentalize a typically small-format genre? Hunters in the Snow measures 46 in. x 64 in., compared with a calendar illumination that rarely would have been larger than 6 in. x 5 in. Why do so many figures and motifs diverge from the conventions of previous calendar illustrations? The traditional labors are subtle and peripheral in relation to the entire image. Why the elaborate detail and unconventional motifs within images that were traditionally formulaic in subject matter? And, ultimately, how were these elements meant to be understood at the time, in their original context?

In an attempt to explain Bruegel’s elaborations and monumental scale, most scholars have situated Bruegel’s series of the Months firmly within the realm of world- landscapes. In this artistic tradition, landscapes were constructed to embody a cosmic significance, connecting the seasons and their activities to a higher order of religious providence and celestial harmony. The labors of the seasons reflect an order to the world that is both cyclical and divinely ordained. Another branch of scholarship takes the world-landscape characteristics of Bruegel’s Months and attaches to them the conventional devotional practices of the medieval calendar tradition and the use of religious symbols that one sees in the work of the Flemish landscape painter Joachim Patinir.

See  also: Landscape of the soul, as an Image of the Pilgrimage of Life

and Spiritual exercise for the “Refugee” of our Times – Sources materials

To these interpretations, discussed further below, this essay argues for another crucial element in understanding the original context of Hunters in the Snow, which is that the image, and its fellow panels from Bruegel’s series of the Months, are descriptive of Antwerp’s suburbs specifically, rather than merely monumentalized calendar illustrations of seasonal activity based on the prescribed models of medieval sources. It is, like many other images from Bruegel’s oeuvre, a localized genre painting – a scene from everyday life that derives its meaning from the perception of familiar objects or activity within it. Bruegel’s personal experience of Antwerp’s countryside has been noted as a possible factor in the creation of landscapes like Hunters in the Snow, but only in general terms, and without regard to the experience of the panel’s original audience. The artist’s inclusion of local and historical elements, common to all five of Bruegel’s Months, contribute to the images’ function as visual chorographical narratives, or descriptions offering an embodied perspective of a region (choros), stressing local details and characteristics. This perspective is uniquely experiential in its depiction of local agricultural activity, the connection of landscape elements, travel, local economic interests, and idiosyncratic details of life in and around 1560s Antwerp. This interpretive framework takes into account the original suburban location of Hunters in the Snow and an ensemble of motifs that would have been recognized by its original owner, Niclaes Jongelinck, as referring to Antwerp itself and his own role in the city’s social fabric.

The goal of this essay, then, is the reconciliation of the secular and spiritual understandings of Hunters in the Snow, and the entire series of the Months by extension, demonstrating that its contemporary audience would have extrapolated meaning from the image by drawing on both local knowledge and experience of Antwerp’s countryside, and a spiritual understanding of the motifs Bruegel includes based on the artistic traditions from which they derive. The precedents of medieval calendars and the world-landscape tradition provide a spiritual context for Bruegel’s landscapes and the localized details within them provide the means by which their original viewers inferred significance from them. It is through the recognition of the familiar and the knowledge of artistic precedents that meaning emerges. Ultimately, these elements work together to reveal the perception of a landscape of providence – both the divine providence of God and nature, and the local providence of the region of Antwerp as it goes about its seasonal labors.

Hunters in the Snow as a World-Landscape

Although scholars have acknowledged that Bruegel’s series of the Months can be seen as “faithful transcription[s] of the countryside,”x and thus an appropriate comparison to a chorographic view of the region around Antwerp, there seems to be a tendency to pass over chorographical considerations in favor of placing the landscapes within the larger, geographical context of world-landscapes. It seems that because the series has traditionally been called Months, and cycles of seasonal motifs were meant to be nearly universal in their application, one is immediately inclined to think of these images in the same context. Svetlana Alpers, in The Art of Describing, uses the categories of cartography, or map-making, to place Bruegel’s work within the confines of the world-landscape genre:

We might also want to use mapping terms to distinguish the larger geographical ambitions of Bruegel’s Season landscapes from the specific chorographic concerns of his drawings of the Ripa Grande or the painting of the Bay of Naples…By combining the traditional themes of the seasons with an extensive mapped view of the earth, Bruegel gives the yearly cycle a world rather than a local dimension...xi

Alpers differentiates images like Hunters in the Snow from works like Naval Battle in the Bay of Naples (1558-62), arguing that we do not have a specific topographical location to connect with the former as we do the latter. Furthermore, because Bruegel composed Hunters in the Snow using a bird’s-eye perspective of the winter scene, the viewer is set apart from the image, asked to contemplate it with a particular detachment from an impossible vantage-point. This view, as Walter Gibson has described it, is “truly cosmic in scope, showing the great forces of nature playing over immense portions of the earth’s surface, as they “subordinat[e] the world of the peasant to the much vaster world of nature.” The implications of the world-landscape context, thus, also apply to the human activity within Hunters in the Snow, suggesting that the overarching view of reality presented in this image is that nature and cosmic forces determine the activities of the everyday. Furthermore, Gibson connects Bruegel’s view of nature, and the peasants subordinate position within it, to Virgil’s Georgics, a classical poem that moves from the “mundane details of farming and cattle-breeding to rhapsodic descriptions of the celestial constellations and the great meteorological forces affecting the world.”xiv In these interpretations, then, Bruegel is presenting a view of reality that is shaped by the cosmos – a world that is not lived-in, but looked-upon.

Hunters in the Snow as a Devotional Image

One way in which a viewer might look upon such a world is with an eye for spiritual perception. Medieval books of hours, where the conventional labors of the months were first codified and presented within a devotional context, depicted the activities of each season under the divinely ordained cycles of both the cosmos and the church. These books directed their readers through devotions that were to be done at certain times of the day and on particular holy days throughout the year, complementing each devotional text with illustrations of the agricultural and leisure activities that marked such times. The illustrations were most often juxtaposed with zodiac imagery or celestial maps, emphasizing the cosmic structure that dictated the labors shown beneath them.

The labors are further contextualized by the inclusion of details pertinent to the patron or owner of a particular book of hours. In the case of the Tres Riches Heures of Jean, the Duke of Berry, the activities in the calendar illustrations take place not only beneath the zodiac signs and a star map, but also in the shadow of the duke’s palaces, depicted as accurate portraits in the background of many of the illuminations. In this way, the spiritual meaning of seasonal labor within a divine and cosmic cycle is focused for the book’s reader through the association with recognizable places. Similarly, in Hunters in the Snow, the labors and activities presented are subordinate to the broad landscape that suggests the region of Antwerp. Though the celestial and zodiac imagery are no longer present in the Months, Bruegel retains the idea of attaching familiar places to the activities depicted. Jongelinck’s world, like the duke’s in the Tres Riches Heures, looms over and around the seasons that Bruegel depicts.

The way in which this spiritual mode of perception may have functioned in regard to Hunters in the Snow is argued by Reindert Falkenburg, who discusses the series, not only in terms of its composition and vantage-point, but in terms of small, religious motifs that connect Bruegel’s work with that of Patinir and others, who used large-scale landscapes to frame biblical scenes. Similar to the way in which the world-landscape tradition encourages a detached evaluation from the viewer, Falkenburg suggests that Bruegel’s series encouraged devotional contemplation, much closer in function to the medieval calendar illustrations of the seasons described above. The engagement of the viewer, who is put in the position of exploring the paintings to find the small vignettes, is the key to understanding how sight leads to insight in these images. In this interpretation, we move from an elevated meditation on the cosmos, to a more interactive relationship with the image itself.

Within Hunters in the Snow, Falkenburg points to various details that implicate both the figures in the image and the viewer of the image on a spiritual level. He begins by considering the sign above the inn depicted in the left foreground of the panel, which reads, “Dit is inden Hert” (translated as “This is in the Stag”).

The sign also displays a rough image of St. Hubert dropping to his knees in front a large stag. St. Hubert was the patron saint of hunters because he converted to Christianity after being shown a vision of the cross in the antlers of a stag. Falkenburg connects this sign and the reference to St. Hubert to the fact that it appears that the only catch the hunters return with is a single fox and, thus, any appeal the hunters may have made to the patron saint was not terribly effective. The author suggests that this is Bruegel’s way of showing that the meager catch is a result of the hunters not having St. Hubert properly in their hearts and that the figures of the hunters, looking down at their feet as they pass by the inn, function as negative examples for the viewer. They go about their labors without regard to the sign at the inn or that which it represents; they are spiritually blind to their patron saint and, by extension, oblivious to the revelation of Christ indicated in the sign’s portrayal of St. Hubert’s vision of the cross.xix The viewer of the image, if focused on exploring the painted terrain while ignoring the spiritual signs (and the inn’s actual sign), is implicated alongside the distracted hunters and their consequent meager spoils. Consequently, the viewer’s spiritual mode of perception reads these motifs as reminders to acknowledge the role of divine providence in the labors of the seasons. Perhaps,  as some  commentators  have  proposed,  Bruegel   shows   himself   here  a  “honest humorist”   by   suggesting  that  their  scant  catch  results   from   not  having   St.Hubert  “inden  hert”:  in  their heart.


Look also : winter-through-bruegel-s-eyes-

  • The Numbering at Bethlehem

The painting shows a Flemish village in winter at sundown. A group of people is gathered at a building on the left. A sign bearing the Habsburg double-headed eagle is visible on the building. Other people are making their way to the same building, including the figures of Joseph and the pregnant Virgin Mary on a donkey.

A pig is being slaughtered. People are going about their daily business in the cold, children are shown playing with toys on the ice and having snowball fights. At the very centre of the painting is a spoked wheel, sometimes interpreted as being a reference to the wheel of fortune.

To the right, a man in a small hut is shown holding a clapper, a warning to keep away from leprosy. Leprosy was endemic in that part of Europe when the painting was created. There is a begging bowl in front of the hut. As he often did, Bruegel treats a biblical story, here the census of Quirinius, as a contemporary event. And once again, reference to particular political events has been adduced – in this case, the severity of the Spanish administration in the southern Netherlands.[2] However, Bruegel may well be making a more general criticism of bureaucratic methods.[3]

The events depicted are described in Luke 2, 1-5:

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered… So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

— Luke 2:1-5, NKJV[4]

This is a rare subject in previous Netherlandish art. The ruined castle in the backgroundsee 2nd detail is based on the towers and gates of Amsterdam.[5]

Towers and gates of Pieter Bruegel the Elder

When the Moors Ruled in Europe

When The Moors Ruled In Europe is a documentary movie presented by the English historian Bettany Hughes. It is a series on the contribution the Moors made to Europe during their 700-year reign in Spain and Portugal ending in the 15th century. It was first broadcast on Channel 4 Saturday 5 November 2005 and was filmed in the Spanish region of Andalusia, mostly in the cities of Granada, Cordoba and the Moroccan city of Fes.

The era ended with the Reconquista during which the Catholic authorities burnt over 1,000,000 Arabic texts.

Join British historian Bettany Hughes as she examines a long-buried chapter of European history–the rise and fall of Islamic culture in what is now Spain and Portugal.

Although generations of Spanish rulers have tried to expunge this era from the historical record, recent archeology and scholarship now shed fresh light on the Moors who flourished in Al-Andalus for more than 700 years.

This fascinating documentary explodes old stereotypes and offers shocking new insights. You’ll discover the ingenious mathematics behind Granada’s dazzling Alhambra Palace, trace El Cid’s lineage to his Moorish roots, and learn how the Iberian population willingly converted to Islam in droves.

Through interviews with noted scholars, you’ll see how Moorish advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, and agriculture helped propel the West out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. What emerges is a richly detailed portrait of a sensuous, inquisitive, and remarkably progressive Islamic culture in Christian Europe.

  • History of the Moorish Empire in Europe
Samuel Parsons Scott’s three-volume history of the Moors in Spain and their influence on the culture of Western Europe was a landmark publication when it first came out in 1904. The first two volumes provide a detailed chronological history while the third volume presents aspects of the culture of al-Andalus, revealing the achievements of the Moorish empire and its impact upon Western scholarship and progress. Topics covered include the Moorish modes of conquest, government and administration; agriculture, trade and commerce; the influence of Moorish learning in science, literature and the arts; and reflections on Muslim social life and practices.Read Here:

Table of contents

Volume I
Introduction by Elizabeth Drayson
Author’s Preface
Chapter I: The Ancient Arabians
Chapter II: The Rise, Progess, and Influence of Islam
Chapter III: The Conquest of Al-Maghreb
Chapter IV: The Visigothic Monarchy
Chapter V: The Invasion and Conquest of Spain
Chapter VI: The Emirate
Chapter VII: Foundation of the Spanish Monarchy
Chapter VIII: The Ommeyades; Reign of Abd-al-Rahman I
Chapter IX: Reign of Hischem I; Reign of Al-Hakem I
Chapter X: Reign of Abd-al-Rahman II; Reign of Mohammed
Chapter XI: Reign of Al-Mondhir; Reign of Abdallah
Chapter XII: Reign of Abd-al-Rahman III
Chapter XIII: Reign of Al-Hakem II
Chapter XIV: Reign of Hischem II
Volume II
Chapter XV: The Moslem Domination in Sicily
Chapter XVI: The Principalities of Moorish Spain
Chpater XVII: Wars with the Christians; The Almoravides
Chapter XVIII: The Empire of the Almohades
Chapter XIX: The Progess of the Christian Arms
Chapter XX: Prosecution of the Reconquest
Chapter XXI: The Last War with Granada
Chapter XXII: Termination of the Reconquest
Volume III
Chapter XXIII: Influence of the Moors on Europe Through the Empire of Frederick II and the States of Southern France
Chapter XXIV: The Spanish Jews
Chapter XXV: The Christians Under Moslem Rule
Chapter XXVI: The Moriscoes
Chapter XXVII: General Condition of Europe from the VIII to the XVI Century
Chapter XXVIII: The Hispano-Arab Age of Literature and Science
Chapter XXIX: Moorish Art in Southern Europe
Chapter XXX: Agriculture, Manufactures, and Commerce of the European Moslems; Their Manners, Customs, and Amusements
  • Moorish Architecture in Andalusia

    Spain owes its special historical position in Europe very largely to his intensive encounter with the Orient. In the summer of 710, a small force under the command of a Berber named Taî f ibn Mâ lik landed to the west of Gibraltar. The Islamic armies that followed in its wake succeeded in conquering large areas of Spain within a short span of years. The conquerors gave the country the name of “”al-andalus.”” Thus began a period of cultural permeation that was to last for almost 800 years. In spite of intolerance and animosity, there developed between Muslims, Christians, and Jews a shared cultural environment that proved the basis for great achievements. Moorish-Andalusian art and architecture combine elements of various traditions into a new, autonomous style. Among the outstanding architectural witnesses to this achievement are the Great Mosque in Cordova and the Alhambra in Granada, recognized and admired as part of the world’s heitage right up to the present day. They are described in detail in this book. The main centres of Hispano-Islamic art and architecture, the cities of Cordova, Seville and Granada, are discussed within the chronological framework of developments, both political and cultural, from 710 to 1492. Read Here

The Power of Myth

  • Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth

In this beloved 1988 PBS series, mythologist and storyteller Joseph Campbell joins Bill Moyers to explore what enduring myths can tell us about our lives. In each of six episodes –“The Hero’s Adventure,” “The Message of the Myth,” “The First Storytellers,” “Sacrifice and Bliss,” “Love and the Goddess,” and “Masks of Eternity” — Moyers and Campbell focus on a character or theme found in cultural and religious mythologies. Campbell argues that these timeless archetypes continue to have a powerful influence on the choices we make and the ways we live.

Released shortly after Campbell’s death on October 30, 1987, The Power of Myth was one of the most popular TV series in the history of public television, and continues to inspire new audiences.(1988)

The Power Of Myths – Full Series

The power of myth_masks of eternity

The Power Of Myth – Masks of Eternity

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (first published in 1949) is a work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell, in which the author discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths.

Since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell’s theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. Filmmaker George Lucas acknowledged Campbell’s theory in mythology, and its influence on the Star Wars films.[1]

The Joseph Campbell Foundation and New World Library issued a new edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces in July 2008 as part of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series of books, audio and video recordings. In 2011, Time placed the book in its list of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since the magazine was founded in 1923.[2]

Campbell explores the theory that mythological narratives frequently share a fundamental structure. The similarities of these myths brought Campbell to write his book in which he details the structure of the monomyth. He calls the motif of the archetypal narrative, “the hero’s adventure”. In a well-known quote from the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarizes the monomyth:



A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[3]

In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. “The hero’s adventure” begins in the ordinary world. He must depart from the ordinary world, when he receives a call to adventure. With the help of a mentor, the hero will cross a guarded threshold, leading him to a supernatural world, where familiar laws and order do not apply. There, the hero will embark on a road of trials, where he is tested along the way. The archetypal hero is sometimes assisted by allies. As the hero faces the ordeal, he encounters the greatest challenge of the journey. Upon rising to the challenge, the hero will receive a reward, or boon. Campbell’s theory of the monomyth continues with the inclusion of a metaphorical death and resurrection. The hero must then decide to return with this boon to the ordinary world. The hero then faces more trials on the road back. Upon the hero’s return, the boon or gift may be used to improve the hero’s ordinary world, in what Campbell calls, the application of the boon.

While many myths do seem to follow the outline of Campbell’s monomyth, there is some variance in the inclusion and sequence of some of the stages. Still, there is an abundance of literature and folklore that follows the motif of the archetypal narrative, paralleling the more general steps of “Departure” (sometimes called Separation), “Initiation”, and “Return”. “Departure” deals with the hero venturing forth on the quest, including the call to adventure. “Initiation” refers to the hero’s adventures that will test him along the way. The last part of the monomyth is the “Return”, which follows the hero’s journey home.[citation needed]

Campbell studied religious, spiritual, mythological and literary classics including the stories of Osiris, Prometheus, the Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus. The book cites the similarities of the stories, and references them as he breaks down the structure of the monomyth.

The book includes a discussion of “the hero’s journey” by using the Freudian concepts popular in the 1940s and 1950s. Campbell’s theory incorporates a mixture of Jungian archetypes, unconscious forces, and Arnold van Gennep’s structuring of rites of passage rituals to provide some illumination.[4] “The hero’s journey” continues to influence artists and intellectuals in contemporary arts and culture, suggesting a basic usefulness for Campbell’s insights beyond mid-20th century forms of analysis. he Hero with a Thousand Faces Read here


Jung: “The world hangs on a thin thread ….”

The world hangs on a thin thread…

and that is the psyche of the man

 Carl Jung



Text :

 From  The Rebel in The Soul-  ancient Egytian papyrus

Paintings see here




  • Transcript:

Jung: The world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of man. Nowadays we are not threatened by elementary catastrophes. There is no such thing [in nature] as an H-bomb; that is all man’s doing. WE are the great danger. The psyche is the great danger. What if something goes wrong with the psyche? You see, and so it is demonstrated to us in our days what the power of the psyche is of man, how important it is to know something about it. But we know nothing about it. Nobody would give credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man have any importance whatever. One thinks, “Oh, he has just what he has in his head. He is all from his surroundings, he is taught such and such a thing, believes such and such a thing, and particularly if he is well housed and well fed, then he has no ideas at all.” And that’s the great mistake because he is just that as which he is born, and he is not born as “tabula rasa,” but as a reality.

Paintings From  The Rebel in The Soul-  ancient Egytian papyrus

  • Interviewer: Jung had a vision at the end of his life of a catastrophe. It was a world catastrophe.

Marie-Louise von Franz: I don’t want to speak much about it. One of his daughters took notes and after his death gave it to me, and there is a drawing with a line going up and down, and underneath is “the last 50 years of humanity.” And some remarks about a final catastrophe being ahead. But I have only those notes.

Paintings From  The Rebel in The Soul-  ancient Egytian papyrus


  • Interviewer: What is your own feeling about it, the world situation?

von Franz: Well, one’s whole feeling revolts aginst this idea but since I have those notes in a drawer, I don’t allow myself to be too optimistic. I think, well, we have always had wars and enormous catastrophies, and I have no more personal fear much about that. I mean at my age, if you have anyhow soon to go— so or so egocentrically spoken. But the beauty of all the life— to think that the billions and billions and billions of years of evolution to build up the plants and the animals and the whole beauty of nature— and that man would go out of sheer shadow foolishness and destroy it all. I mean that all life might go from the the planet. And we don’t know— on Mars and Venus there is no life; we don’t know if there is any life experiment elsewhere in the galaxies. And we go and destroy this. I think it is so abominable. I try to pray that it may not happen— that a miracle happens.

Paintings From  The Rebel in The Soul-  ancient Egytian papyrus

  • Interviewer: Do you find that young people that you see now are aware of that? That it’s in their consciousness?

von Franz: Yes it’s partly in their unconscious and partly in their consciousness, and I think in a very dangerous way, namely, in a way of giving up and running away into a fantasy world. You know, when you study science fiction, you see there’s always the fantasy of escaping to some other planet and begin anew again, which means give up the battle on this earth, consider it hopeless and give up. I think one shouldn’t give up, because if you think of [Jung’s book] Answer to Job, if man would wrestle with God, if man would tell God that he shouldn’t do it, if we would reflect more. That why reflection comes in. Jung never thought that we might do better than just possibly sneak round the corner with not too big a catastrophe. When I saw him last, he had also a vision while I was with him, but there he said, “I see enormous stretches devastated, enormous stretches of the earth. But, thank God it’s not the whole planet.” I think that if not more people try to reflect and take back their projections and take the opposites within themselves, there will be a total destruction.

Paintings From  The Rebel in The Soul-  ancient Egytian papyrus

“The supreme madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be, … things are only what we want to believe they are ...” Jacques Brel

Read: Personal myths in light of our modern-day “reality”

This comprehensive collection of writings by the epoch-shaping Swiss psychoanalyst was edited by Joseph Campbell, himself the most famous of Jung’s American followers. It comprises Jung’s pioneering studies of the structure of the psyche – including the works that introduced such notions as the collective unconscious, the Shadow, Anima and Animus – as well as inquries into the psychology of spirituality and creativity, and Jung’s influential “On Synchronicity,” a paper whose implications extend from the I Ching to quantum physics. Campbell’s introduction completes this compact volume, placing Jung’s astonishingly wide-ranging oeuvre within the context of his life and times. Read here

  • Jung and Alchemy

Jung’s interest for alchemy starts from two directions. One is the necessity to find a historic parallel to his own discoveries of the unconscious psychic life. The second refers to the series of dreams which have evoked the new research course, on which Jung talks at length in his autobiography: Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

 Picture from Aurora Consurgens“Before I discovered alchemy – writes Jung – I had a series of dreams which dealt with the same theme. Beside my house stood another, that is to say, another wing of annex, which was strange to me. Each tie I would wonder in my dream why I did not know this house, although it had apparently always been there”. This strange part of the house revealed its meaning finally: “The unknown wing of the house was a part of my personality, an aspect of myself…”

This part was unconscious and would reveal itself as an interest for the in-depth study of medieval alchemy.

This study was announced definitively in the dream from the year 1926 when Jung dreams himself being captive in the 17th century. “Not until much later did I realize that it [the dream] referred to alchemy, for that science reached its height in the seventeenth century”.

Alchemy is a symbolic representation of the “individuation process In the serious alchemy, believes Jung, processes arising from individual psyche are described encoded. Peculiar terms that alchemy operates with, such as prima materia, unus mundus, Mercurius, filium philosophorum, lapis and many more are decrypted by Jung through an arduous work of over 10 years.
His develops and parallels are described at length in his book Psychology and Alchemy , an essential piece of work for the ones studying interestedly analytical psychology, the individuation process and the exploration of the unconscious through dream interpretation.


“We could resume Jung’s vast experience with alchemy in the next two quotations:

“Grounded in the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages, alchemy formed the bridge on the one hand into the past, to Gnosticism, and on the other into the future, to the modern psychology of the unconscious”.

 “Only after I had familiarized myself with alchemy did I realize that the unconscious is a process, and that the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious”.

More about alchemy, archetypes and dream interpretation may be found in Psychology and Alchemy, the book Jung has dedicated to the analysis of the relationship between alchemical symbolism and the individuation process. Read here

  • Jung, Aquinas, and the Aurora Consurgens: Establishing a Relationship with God

The reunion of a man with God is the subject of a medieval text which aggregates excerpts from the Bible and Arabic alchemical texts that had recently become available in Europe. The Aurora Consurgens personifies God as Wisdom, a spiritual being who not only formed the world in the beginning but is also a guide to men to return to God subsequent to their separation at the Fall.

The union of feminine Wisdom and a man is aligned with pairs of opposites such as spirit and soul, and is also conflated with the union of a man and a woman. While the text is perhaps falsely ascribed to St. Thomas, it is consistent with his ideas so that it may be explicated using his writings on the Trinity, psychology, angels, and Greek philosophy. From there, correspondence is established with C. G. Jung‘s concept of archetypes, and the text is subsequently interpreted from the perspective of analytical psychology.
It is identified how interaction of archetypes associated with the union of a man and a woman provide an explanation for the process of redemption given in the Aurora. A similar process of redemption is identified in other writings from the beginning of the Christian era up to the modern teachings of the Catholic Church. Read more here

Personal myths in light of our modern-day “reality”.

“The supreme madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be, … things are only what we want to believe they are ...” Jacques Brel

Big fish eating small fish

A broadside criticising the exploitation of political power by alluding to the proverb of big fish eating small fish; with an engraving with motives after Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel showing in the centre a table with a large dish of small fish, around the table are sitting five large fish with human arms, dressed in clothes and devouring the small fish, the table scene surrounded by various scenes of larger fish being cut open, revealing smaller fish, in the background small fish hanging on the gallows; with engraved title and text.

  • Light and Dark Personal Mythology in Current Events

These days we ponder what should be the “new myths” in light of our modern-day reality, but upon reflection we can see that many already exist and are playing themselves out on the public stage, in the form of people’s “personal myths” that drive their words and actions. In our Internet age, “personal mythology” is not merely a private matter of each person’s individuation process. The manifestations and consequences of personal myths are often bizarre, tragic, and dangerous to society. We have seen this recently: in the minds of the shooters in the massacres in Charleston and elsewhere, the takeover of Oregon’s Malheur wildlife refuge by an armed self-styled militia, attitudes toward Muslims, the debate over immigration, race relations, and in much of the rhetoric of the current presidential campaign. In order to understand events and control our future, it has become more urgent than ever that we be able to recognize and understand myths when they see them, which is the first step both to controlling their dark side as well as to developing healthier new myths that will inspire individuals and society in a more positive way.

Masquerades played a big role in the carnival festivities and contributed to the reverse practices. Masks frequently evoked animal or even demonic faces and revealed the dark tendencies of being. Indeed, each person used to choose, without even realizing it, a disguise and a mask that best reflected the lower tendencies. Far from hiding his face, the individual put on a mask revealing the darkest face that he tried to hide under different social masks in everyday life.

The mask (from the Latin “persona”) actually concealed the various external and changing appearances of the social character and revealed the real personality of the individual.

Like carnival practices, the Italian theatre of the “comedia dell’arte” gave the actors a mask that hid their face and removed any possibility of expression other than that of the character.

Let us note in passing that the Chinese (Chan) and Japanese (Zen) Buddhist traditions consider that every being has an original face, the face of his or her true being, under the mask of the apparent face. So, the mask can both reveal the dark aspect of the being during the carnival time and hide the luminous aspect in everyday life.

James Ensor is in line with the Flemish painting and Jerome Bosch in particular. Like Jerome Bosch, he did not try to paint men according to their outer appearances, but as they were inside. And there is no better way than the Flanders’ carnival parties to unveil the other side of the picture.

The carnival mask did not only conceal the appearances of the social figure, it also revealed the hidden face of the being carrying it. Each person chose indeed, subconsciously, a mask (From the Latin “persona”) which best reflected his or her true personality. Far from hiding the face of the person, the mask let appear, on the contrary, his or her true face.

The grotesque faces of these masks revealed the desires that animated the being: jealousy, cupidity, concupiscence etc. If these desires were not counterbalanced by opposed tendencies such as love, generosity, non-attachment and so on, they generated anguish: the anguish of losing what one has, anguish to lack, anguish to die etc. Desires are always sources of torment. And at the time of Jerome Bosch, the supreme desire consisted in accessing Paradise and the supreme torment to end in the flames of Hell. Two dangers threatened any being by the end of the Middle Ages: Death and Devil. That theme often came back under the metal point or brush of James Ensor.

Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889

Devil (from the Greek “diabolos”, which means disuniting, splitting, dividing) symbolizes beforehand all our own inner demons. Desires and anguishes often conceal the other tendencies of the being. Othello only saw Desdemona through Iago’s eyes; jealousy masked his love for his wife. The being forgets this side of himself that unites him to the other and maintains his inner unity. He is disintegrated, split up and let people only see a hideous facet of himself because it was deprived of its complement.

The features revealed during the carnival parties are not specific to a particular being, but characteristic of the gathered crowd. James Ensor was always haunted by crowds and insect hordes, which share the same conditioning and know only one destiny, to follow their instincts.

  • Note: Krampus or   Spiritual  “winter”  of  the modern world

In Catholicism, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. His saints day falls in early December, which helped strengthen his association with the Yuletide season. Many European cultures not only welcomed the kindly man as a figure of generosity and benevolence to reward the good, but they also feared his menacing counterparts who punished the bad. Parts of Germany and Austria dread the beastly Krampus, while other Germanic regions have Belsnickle and Knecht Ruprecht, black-bearded men who carry switches to beat children. France has Hans Trapp and Père Fouettard. (Some of these helpers, such as Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands have attracted recent controversy.)

Krampus’s name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, and is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns.

The legend is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany, where Christmas celebrations begin in early December. Krampus was created as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, would swat “wicked” children, stuff them in a sack, and take them away to his lair.

According to folklore, Krampus purportedly shows up in towns the night of December 5, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. The next day, December 6, is Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, when children look outside their door to see if the shoe or boot they’d left out the night before contains either presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod (bad behavior). (







  • In The Bear, the Harlot, the Magician and the King Lloyd D. Graham explains the source of Carnaval and the period of change  from winter to Spring.

The “ insurrection “of january 6th 2021 in USA Capitol  is an expression of the deep rooted origins of the folklores of Carnaval and Krampus,

6 january is the feast of Epiphany


On this day we are making King cakes . They come with cardboard “crowns” to be worn by whoever gets the slice with the token and becomes monarch of the event.







The Bear, the Harlot, the Magician and the King  by Lloyd D. Graham
In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the seduction of the wild man Enkidu by Shamhat the
harlot symbolically causes his death as an unreflective animal and his rebirth as a
human – an Eden-like fall into self-awareness. Created as a match for king
Gilgamesh of Uruk, Enkidu goes on to become the king’s beloved friend. In
European folk traditions, the Wild Man is interchangeable with the bear, and
parallels can be drawn between Enkidu and the Candlemas Bear associated with
Carnival. Since Enkidu symbolises our pre-human nature, one can perceive a
figurative truth to the pan-European folk belief that people are descended from bears.
Thematic overlaps exist between some Gilgamesh narratives and European folk-tales
about a Wild Man whose father was a bear (the Bear’s Son / Jean de l’Ours motif) or
about twin boys, one of whom was raised in the wild by a female bear (Valentine and
Orson). Perhaps surprisingly, the roots of Santa Claus lie in the Wild Man. So too do
the origins of Merlin, the wizard of medieval Arthurian romance. Merlin has
elements in common with Enkidu, while King Arthur can be seen as a metaphorical
“Bear’s son.” Over time, the status of the Wild Man has changed from a wholly
inhuman monster to a “noble savage” who today might even be cast as a salvific ecowarrior.  Read here

The Wild Man or the Masquerade of Orson and Valentine – Brueghel

Read more here

Message from The Heart Of The World – ‘Don’t Say They Didn’t Tell Us’!

  • Voices from the Sacred Mountains

The Arhuaco indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, are known for their century-long track record of environmental protection, but their cultural survival and conservation of this sacred mountain’s ecosystems are at risk.

  • Message from The Heart Of The World! (Corazón Del Mundo) Shortfilm

  • From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning – Kogi Message to Humanity:

  • Aluna

In the second documentary, the Kogis have re-emerged, realising that the importance of their warning had not been grasped.[5] As well as warning Younger Brother they have decided to share their secret sciences in the belief that sharing these sciences will share their burden of changing the world for the bette

Aluna means “conscience “. Enter the last theocratic chiefdom in America, hidden for centuries on a mountain in Colombia. The Kogi have made this amazing documentary to help us understand how to avoid the destruction of the world that they are trying to protect, and of ourselves.

If you watch this video and feel inspired by the Kogi and their message, please know that they have NO interest in people coming to visit them and their sacred lands. This includes visiting La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), which for the Kogi was never “lost”. Rather, it was purposefully hidden, because it is an incredibly sacred site that even many Kogi are not sanctioned to visit… and certainly not tourists.

The Kogi have gone to GREAT lengths, for the past 500+ years to keep their sacred lands free from the energy and unconscious spiritual issues of outsiders. This is something the average “Westerner” might have a hard time understanding. But all we need to understand is that the Kogi DON’T want people visiting their lands, and whether we understand the spiritual reasons for this, or not, is unimportant. Being in their territories uninvited is like walking into a complete stranger’s house, uninvited, and walking through the rooms of that house as if it were your own. It is rude and inappropriate. Please take this to HEART and KNOW what it means to violate their wish to NOT have outsiders in their sacred lands.

If you feel—and KNOW within your heart—that you have a genuine calling (not just idle curiosity) to support the Kogi in some way, my only recommendation is that you take a serious and sincere interest in recovering your attention from the great many distractions—most especially “spiritual” distractions—and doing what it takes to come into greater consciousness of who you are as Spirit, where you are from as Spirit, and precisely why you are here, as Spirit. This is hard and, at times, painstaking work. Most importantly, know that the message of the Kogi is a practical one. That we day-by-day apply ourselves to the deep work of resolving our issues, misconceptions, projections, negative tendencies, etc. And that we do EVERYTHING within our power to stop living a lie (the Modern world) which is quite obviously destructive and out of alignment with LIFE. In simple terms, they are making it clear that the Western world must drastically change its ways, less we go through drastic changes. If you’re reading this, that likely includes you. The Kogi are not simply something interesting for our entertainment or idle curiosity. They do NOT wish to be idolised, for that only marginalises the deep importance of their message, which is, in reality, the Mother’s message.

  • The ancients guardians of the earth

“The Younger Brother is damaging the world. He is on the path to destruction. He must understand and change his ways, or the world will die,” Luis Guillermo Izquierdo lamented as he walked beside me, his cheeks swollen with a wad of coca leaves that he slowly masticated.

Ritual flute music drifted through the forest from some unseen source as Izquierdo – a mamo, or enlightened spiritual leader, of Colombia’s Arhuaco indigenous people – led me to the sacred natural pool Pozo de Yaya for a ritual cleansing. He removed his sandals, lowered himself onto a rock and sat cross-legged beside a fast-running stream. Izquierdo bade me remove my shoes and step into the water. Then he handed me a piece of thread representing the umbilical cord tethering me to Mother Earth, and in a warbling falsetto told me to pour my thoughts into the thread.

The Younger Brother is damaging the world – he must understand and change his ways, or the world will die

Hair as thick and whorled as a flokati rug flooded over Izquierdo’s shoulders from beneath a woven white conical hat, worn in reverence to the snow-capped peaks of the sacred Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. He was dressed in thick, snow-white trousers and a matching serape (shawl) of maguey fibre, tied by a belt at the waist. He reminded me of a Star Wars Jedi ­– a wise member of the noble protective order capable by mental training of tapping into the metaphysical ‘Force’ in search of peaceful and righteous solutions. The metaphor seemed appropriate.

“We want the Younger Brothers to know more about our culture. In that way we can stop him destroying the world,” said Izquierdo, referring to the modern world beyond the mountains.

Along with the Kogi and Wiwa, or Malayo, the Arhuaco are descended from the ancient and advanced Tairona civilisation (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

The Arhuaco are (with the neighbouring Kogi and Wiwa, or Malayo) one of three peoples whose ancestors were connected to the ancient and advanced Tairona civilisation. Brutally subjugated by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, the survivors retreated into the pyramidal Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta that explode upwards from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Their homeland – the world’s highest coastal mountain range – comprises every distinct climatic ecosystem in Colombia, from coastal wetlands and equatorial rainforest to alpine tundra and glacial peaks. Declared by Unesco in 1979 as a Biosphere Reserve of Man and Humanity, the mountain range was named as the most irreplaceable ecosystem on Earth by Science journal in 2013.

The three communities, who still total about 90,000, according to non-profit organisation Cultural Survival) call themselves the ‘Elder Brothers’ and are ruled by mamos, who maintain an ancient cosmovision (a conscious, cognitive interpretation of the world) based on a worship and custodianship of Mother Nature.

The mamos believe themselves uniquely possessed of a mystical wisdom. Izquierdo, like fellow mamos, spent his entire youth in intense spiritual training. Chosen by divination and sequestered for 18 years from birth to adulthood within dark confines near the summit of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, they’re inculturated in their societal values until they master a cosmic consciousness that they believe permits them to commune with the planet directly. “They learn to work as hidden-spirit midwives to all life, keeping it in balance,” explained Alan Ereira, a documentary filmmaker and founder of the Tairona Heritage Trust.

After the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, the Tairona retreated to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

“The thoughts of our ancestors are embedded in every rock and other element in which humans have contact,” said Izquierdo, who holds to Arhuaco belief that we exist in a conscious universe where all material things have life and awareness. It’s unfathomable to them that ‘modern man’ does not believe the Earth consciously experiences the harm we inflict on it.

“They cannot understand why it is that we do what we do to the Earth,” said Wade Davis, an anthropologist and former National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who spent many years studying and living among the Arhuaco.

Surrounded by almost impassable jungle (and in recent decades caught in the crossfire between the Colombian Army, Farc guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries), this ‘lost’ indigenous people lived for five centuries in almost complete isolation and obscurity, steadfastly guarding their territory against outside intrusion. Despite this isolation, their consciousness and cosmovision charges them with the responsibility of maintaining the harmony of nature and the universe on behalf of all mankind.

The thoughts of our ancestors are embedded in every rock and other element in which humans have contact

Three decades ago, the indigenous people of the Sierra realised that the sacred Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta snow caps ­– for them, the literal heart of the world – were melting. The páramos (high-altitude savanna) were drying up. Amphibians and butterflies were disappearing. In 1987, concerned that climate change was impacting the cosmos, they established the Organización Indígena Gonawindúa Tayrona to represent the mamos at a governmental level.

The Kogi were the most traditional and withdrawn group, and according to Ereira, they were fearful that their work of taking care of the world would be disrupted and damaged by contact. But in 1990, their mamos decided that, without drastic change, all would be lost, so they persuaded their people that they had to go public, and they invited Ereira to film From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning.

But their aching exhortation of ecological disharmony and potential disaster fell on deaf ears. Two decades later, they called Ereira back to make a sequel: Aluna. “They had to do better, driven by fear of what they see will happen next,” Ereira said.

As the world accelerates towards calamity, the Sierra peoples’ self-awareness as wards for the Earth’s ecological welfare has taken on a sense of urgency.

The Arhuaco maintain an ancient cosmovision based on a worship and custodianship of Mother Nature (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

While in Bogotá researching a National Geographic guidebook to Colombia, I was introduced to Arhuaco political representative (and future Senate candidate) Danilo Villafañe Torres. Known as ‘El Canciller’ (the Chancellor) and ‘Gran Hermano’ (Big Brother), Villafañe inherited the mantle of tribal leader at age 23 from his father, Adalberto, who was killed in 1996 by drug traffickers for opposing illegal coca plantations on Arhuaco land. Villafañe invited me to visit the ‘heart of the world’ in the care of Izquierdo.

“Brother Christopher is here to share our message with the Younger Brothers,” Izquierdo said to the border guard. He dipped his hand into a beautifully hand-woven zijew (shoulder bag) and withdrew a handful of coca leaves. The guard did the same. They exchanged leaves as a symbol of sharing and goodwill.

We were attempting to enter the Resguardo Arhuaco. Occupying a vast tract of land on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the community’s autonomous territory was granted legal recognition by the Colombian government in 1983. (The Kogi occupy their own resguardo on the northern slopes; the Wiwa, to the south-east.)

The sullen guard scrutinised me with disdain.

Izquierdo – known by the honorific Mamo Menjavi – spoke again, more authoritatively. I heard the words ‘National Geographic’. At that, the custodian smiled, and the massive gates swung open, creaking on their rusting hinges.

The Arhuaco are one of the last uncorrupted indigenous civilisations to survive culturally intact since the time of the Aztecs and Incas (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

The ravine-slashed, boulder-strewn drive up the mountain from the village of Pueblo Bello would have challenged a goat. Few vehicles ever make this journey into the heart of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. I felt honoured. Permission for bunachis (outsiders) to visit Nabusimake, the ‘capital’ of the Arhuaco resguardo, is rarely given. To be allowed entry to Nabusimake’s sacred walled inner sanctum is almost unheard of. ‘The entrance of non-indigenous is prohibited’ reads a sign above the thatch-topped entrance gate. For the lucky few who make it inside, photography is forbidden.

But the mamos held council the evening of my arrival and granted me permission to enter. The next day, I clambered up a narrow ladder beside the gate to photograph the hallowed hamlet, nestled in a small pine-scented plateau cusped by a mountain meniscus.

Huddled together against a rough mud-and-stone wall, three teenage girls giggled nervously, unsure whether to pose or flee. Younger children scattered. Women withdrew at my approach. The men – aloof, expressionless and haughtily proud – avoided eye contact, impervious to my presence as I walked a cobblestone thread between worlds. They eased past, mysterious as ghosts. Several wore cowboy hats and other sartorial accoutrements that set off their white Arhuaco attire.

Izquierdo smiled serenely. By contrast, he seemed pleased by my presence.


Permission for outsiders to visit Nabusimake, the ‘capital’ of the Arhuaco resguardo, is rarely given (Credit: Credit: Christopher P Baker)

Permission for outsiders to visit Nabusimake, the ‘capital’ of the Arhuaco resguardo, is rarely given (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

Indefatigable and inspired, the self-assured mamo is at the forefront of a third wave of Arhuaco initiatives that represent a huge leap beyond the unheeded warnings from their mountain refuge. Izquierdo champions opening up the resguardo for ethno-tourism and autonomous economic empowerment, such as the sale of Arhuaco crafts to the Younger Brothers.

Since 1995, various Arhuaco communities have organised themselves into cooperatives to produce and sell export-quality organic coffee. But as climate change pushes coffee production to cooler, higher mountain slopes, they’re now working to supplement coffee earnings with those from selling cacao. And as spiritual leader for Puerto Bello (the gateway village at the base of the mountains), Izquierdo has promoted the cultivation of sugarcane locally to produce panela (unrefined, organic raw brown sugar) for export.

“The idea is also to let the world know more about our culture,” Izquierdo said. “We want to carry the message that it is not simply to cultivate, but to cultivate with conscience,” he added, referring to organic farming, without harmful pesticides and other inputs, in harmony with Mother Nature.

The Sierra peoples’ self-awareness as wards for the Earth’s ecological welfare has taken on a sense of urgency (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

By integrating into the cash economy, the Arhuaco are gaining cultural recognition while deriving income to buy back, parcel by parcel, ancestral territory owned by Younger Brothers, Izquierdo explained. The ultimate goal is for the Arhuaco to control more than 190,000 hectares (almost half a million acres), reconstituting ancestral territories like a rombacabeza (jigsaw puzzle), piece by piece.

I watched, fascinated, as Izquierdo moistened a wooden stick with saliva and dipped it into a poporo (a gourd filled with lime from powdered seashells), a carry-over from pre-Columbian civilisation. Izquierdo extracted some lime, wiped it on a wad of coca leaves to enhance the coca’s stimulating effect, and stuffed the wad in his mouth.

The thick limescale, the hard residue that builds by incremental degree with each wipe around the rim of the gourd, is a living library of every thought underlying every stroke of the stick. For the Arhuaco, an individual’s every thought or dream is literally recorded by the metaphorical action of poporeando (dipping into the poporo). “We write our thoughts with it. It’s a record of a man’s entire life,” Izquierdo said.

Several members of the Arhuaco community champion opening the resguardo for ethno-tourism and autonomous economic empowerment (Credit: Christopher P Baker)

Equally, every knot in their intricately crafted zijews and clothing represents a thought or memory. I watched men perched on low wooden stools weaving cloth on ancient looms, deep in concentration as their deft fingers wove together the material world with that of spirit.

The idea is also to let the world know more about our culture

Every aspect of Arhuaco life is permeated with the symbolism of weaving. “Their central metaphor is a loom,” Davis said. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the very spindle from which the all-knowing Mother’s thread unwinds, turning possibility into reality, dreams and memory. The power of embedded thought is the very weft to the warp of their cosmovision.

Suddenly the meaning of the maguey thread that Izquierdo had handed me became clear. My experience with the Arhuaco was indelibly printed in that metaphorical umbilical cord. A cord uniting the past and present, the spiritual and material worlds, and my understanding – my thoughts, dreams and memory – of the Arhuaco’s cosmovision to be shared with the world.

  • Don’t Say They Didn’t Tell Us’


We, the Mamos from the Heart of the World, that is also the Heart of the Universe, from our Sacred House. the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, greet all our younger brothers and sisters of all the races of the world, the great brotherhood, all masters, the lightworkers, all of those who are on the path to change consciousness, to those who are awakening to a new consciousness and also to all those who are still asleep. We invite you to reflect on what is obvious, what everyone is talking about, the message that crowns us all as a single unit, in a single pain, in a single suffering, as a single humanity that suffers, cries that it is broken and that has to rise empowered, different, freed from incomprehensible egos, from values that did not help, and from powers that left us weak and tired of carrying them and that did not help when we needed them most. The Mother spoke, life shouted it in our faces, nature revealed it, the unintentional fires screamed it as a Truth.

But we did not hear them, because we were busy with grandiose work for ourselves, because they did not touch us directly, because we were busy building a better tomorrow without knowing for whom or for what. Today, we cannot say that we were caught off guard, that we were not warned, that it was a surprise. Don’t say they didn’t tell us. We, the Mamos who have learned for hundreds of generations and lineages to take time to develop communication with the higher and lower dimensions, who lived for 18 years of our present life learning to silence our minds, to desensitize our biological bodies and our senses, to extinguish our egos, to put our minds to sleep so that they do not judge, do not sentence, do not condemn. In those years and until the end of our existence we continue to learn to be Mamos, by sharpening the senses of the higher being and training ourselves to perceive, with the senses of the soul and the heart, the whisper of the divinity carried by the wind, the breeze, the waters, the clouds, the mountains, the animals, the forests, the very small like the bacteria, the visible and invisible beings, as the guardians of our Sacred Sites. We have learned that they speak with the innocent laughter of children, in the old wisdom of the one who is already leaving, with the color of the clouds, in the melting of the Chundwas (snow peaks), in the birds that stopped flying, in the volcanoes that woke up perplexed and began to roar until they made Mother Earth tremble.

We the Mamos read it, understood it, witnessed it when the slow and accurate walk of the father sun changed, hugging Mother Earth until she was burned, and when the lunar cycles no longer aligned to direct life, the planting time and the harvest. Younger brothers and sisters, the things that may seem insignificant to you have an enormous meaning for us, the Mamos. In every natural event, in every manifestation the Mamos see a messenger and a message, a guardian, a teacher, a counselor, who offer us the opportunity to hear, to dialogue with them, with Mother Nature and with Mother Earth.Thus, we learn the power to lead without insisting that others follow us. We call those viruses, bacteria, those who do good things for us or who plague us, or alter our time and space, our Elder Brothers. Today, one single tiny entity is producing a huge disturbance forcing all of us to make a stop on our sacred pathway of life.

For us, the Mamos, when Mother Earth had her first dawn everything was manifested from the spirit, in Ánugwe. Then, everything was manifested in Ti’naÁnugwe is the immaterial force of existence, the intangible and greater “Law Force” that governs and controls everything that exists in nature and in the cosmos. Ti’na is the force in the material way, visible and manifested from Ánugwe. Thus, all kingdoms, animals, plants, waters, rocks, and everything that exists are manifested in Ti’na. They came first, ahead of us, in Ánugwe,where they manifested as the supreme force of life, of creation, and thus they had tocontinue in Ti’na. We were the last to arrive in Ánugwe and Ti’na. We arrived yesterday, and although we have not yet been able to understand what we came for, or why we were the last, nor what would be our sacred mission, or why did we come to be with the elder brothers, we became their executioners and as cannibals we began to consume and destroy many of them. We have altered the order established by the Most Sacred Law of the Universe, the Law of Origin, which is the Law of Order, of life and of respect for the inner being We have not learned to put ourselves at the height of Mother Earth, nor of Nature. As capricious children blinded by the power of reason, we begin to change everything, destroying, annihilating everything in our path.

We were so powerful that in a blink of an eye we overheated the planet, thawed the poles, causing many brothers of flora and fauna to disappear. We polluted the breeze and the air. Very few have acted with a consciousness of transformation wanting to change the system. That chaos is what today governs us. Until now, we were playing with fire. We put ourselves off balance. And then, a virus, the smallest of the elementals, the most insignificant creature before the eyes of the younger brothers forced us to stop the pursuit of the race, without knowing after what we were running. That virus became a great teacher, an authentic messenger.

From our communication sites with the portals from the different dimensions, we, the Mamos, perceive that this teacher is fed by fear, vibrates with it and is empowered by the fear that he perceives in all of us who feel terrified of losing what we have, what we built or planned to build. As humanity we have been crowned with the vibration of fear. From the Sacred sites the Guardians send us courage and we Mamos add to this courage a good dose of solidarity, unconditional love and self-confidence in ourselves to spread it to others as an effective shield against fear.

We, the Mamos, speak with Mother Earth, we speak with life and with beings from all kingdoms. From our sacred offices we ask for forgiveness, first for ourselves, our neighbors, the breeze, the water, the animals and the plants. We heal them, we balance them, because by healing and balancing our Elder Brothers, we heal and balance ourselves, because everything is integrated into the whole by interacting with each other and with ourselves. Only when we achieve the new balance will the New Humanity be empowered by solidarity, giving way to the New Earth, promoted, honored, respected and loved. Then, not only will pure air be possible, not only will healthy animals be possible, will plants be possible, but each element, each being will be fulfilling its mission, without being destroyed, violated, by what is called development, civilization, modernity and which we, the Mamos, call unconsciousness.

Our Sacred Mother Earth will be protected when we as humanity make the resolution to do things respecting and revering all life. For us, the Mamos, this is an invitation to change and transform ourselves without aggression, with love and kindness. It is something that you talk about the transformation or mutations that modern viruses are doing. The Mamos see this as an approaching reality that we can reach with the greatest humility that will assist us with the absolute truth of being able to apologize to ourselves and to all brothers and our elder brothers, to have a change in attitude, a transformation of consciousness and habits of thinking before this sacred planet, before this sacred mother and before our sacred elder brothers.

We have demonstrated how powerful we are to change, to transform. Let’s use the same power to mutate our consciousness adding a strong dosage of love, compassion, respect and reverence for life without rejecting with pride or arrogance the elder brothers of nature, because they were here ahead of us. Mother Earth, the Guardians of our Sacred Sites, the Mamos of the Chundwas are calling all of us, mobilizing Mamos and younger brothers and sisters to work together bringing that change in humanity and in the world. May power, light and love be with all of us to make that transformation during this time of change.


Mamo Dwawiku Izquierdo, Mamo Arhuaco from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Compiled and translated by Amanda Bernal-Carlo, President, The Great Balance

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  • Aluna: A Message to Little Brother

by charles eisentein

A black line, a network of hidden connections, links all the sacred places on earth. If that line should be broken, calamities will ensue, and this beautiful world shall perish. Destroying a forest here, draining a swamp there might have dire consequences across the globe. The Kogi shamans cannot perform their work of maintaining the balance of nature much longer in the face of our depredations.

How are we to interpret this warning coming from the Kogi people of the Sierra Madre in Colombia, delivered through their latest film, Aluna?

Contemporary Western viewers may respond to the film with resistance and skepticism. The old guard will undoubtedly reproduce the violence of well-worn colonial discourses, dismissing the Kogi’s message as primitive magico-religious thinking. For the ethnically sensitive, such a crude dismissal is passé. Today we have more sophisticated ways to deafen ourselves to what the Kogi are telling us.

The first we might call “ontological imperialism.” It would be to say, “Yes, the Kogi are onto something after all. The black line is a metaphor for ecological interconnectedness. Their talk of the voice of water is code for the hydrological cycle. They are keen observers of nature and have articulated scientific truths in their own cultural language.” That sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? It gives them credit for being astute observers of nature. However, this view takes for granted that basal reality is that of scientific materialism, thereby disallowing the conceptual categories and causal understandings of the Kogi. It says that fundamentally, we understand the nature of reality better than they do.

If their message were merely, “We must take better care of nature,” then the above understanding would be sufficient. But the Kogi are inviting us into a much deeper change than that. Do we understand the nature of reality better than they do? It once seemed so, but today the fruits of our supposed understanding—social and ecological crisis—gnaw at our surety.

A second and related way that Western viewers may resist the Kogi’s message is through what Edward Said called “Orientalism”—the distortion (romanticizing, demonizing, exaggerating, reducing) of another culture to conform it to a comfortable and self-serving narrative. An Orientalist response to Aluna would seek to turn the Kogi into a kind of cultural or spiritual fetish object, subsuming them into our own cultural mythology, perhaps by making them into an academic subject and stuffing their beliefs and way of life into various ethnographic categories. In that way we make them safe, we make them ours. It is just another kind of imperialism.

We might do the same by inserting their messages into a comfortable silo called “indigenous wisdom,” elevating the Kogi to superhuman status and, in the process, dehumanizing them as well. It is not true respect to worship an image—the reverse image of our own shadow—that we project onto another culture. Real respect seeks to understand someone on their own terms.

I am happy to say that Aluna avoids both traps (of imperialism and Orientalism). What makes this film remarkable is that fundamentally it is not a documentary. I have always been a little uncomfortable with documentaries about other cultures, even those that avoid the overtly patronizing tone of “look at those happy natives,” because they of necessity objectify their subjects, turning them into the material of a (video) “document.” By documenting others, we incorporate them into our world, into a safe educational or entertainment or inspirational frame, and into the “society of the spectacle.” But this film is not a documentary.

Reversing Colonialism

Who is the filmmaker here? Ordinarily one would say it was Alan Ereira, a former BBC producer who produced it. But that’s not what he says, and that’s not what the Kogi say either. According to them, the Kogi noticed the accelerating degradation of the planet and contacted the outside world to deliver a message that we must stop the destruction. They did so first in the early 1990s with the BBC documentary From the Heart of the World, after which they again withdrew from contact.

Obviously, we didn’t heed their message. “We must not have spoken it clearly enough,” they concluded, and so they sought out Ereira again to make a sequel. Fittingly, this is not a masterly production in conventional terms. Ereira appears to be in a little over his head, guileless, uncertain, and humble. These qualities are palpable throughout and contribute to one’s confidence that the Kogi and their message have not been conveniently packaged for commercialization or ecospiritual objectification. It is a raw and honest film.

The cynical observer, practiced with the tools of post-colonial analysis, might think that the assertion that “the Kogi have requested this film be made in order to convey their message” is a mere cinematic trope, or a way to preempt charges of exoticism, Orientalism, and cultural appropriation. However, that analysis is itself a kind of colonialism, based as it is on the patronizing assumption that the Kogi must be the helpless pawns of the filmmaker. It discounts the Kogi’s own explicit assertion that they have called the filmmaker back in order to transmit an important message to “little brother” (the industrialized world).

Dare we take the Kogi at face value? Dare we hold them in full agency as authors not only of this film, but of a message sent to us on their initiative? To do so reverses the power relations implicit in even the most post-colonially sensitive ethnography, in which the distinction between the ethnographic subject and the ethnographer is usually preserved in some form (and institutionalized when, with all due disclaimers, it appears in academic publications). Anthropologists don’t normally grant ethnographic populations agency as the originators of messages to academia.

The Kogi are not interested in being studied. They have not allowed anthropologists to live among them. They have not let their civilization become an object within ours. They, in fact, have been studying us—and with increasing alarm. “We have warned little brother,” they tell us, “and little brother has not listened.”

The Gift of Humility

In one telling scene, the Kogi mama (shaman) Shibulata visits an astronomical observatory in England. The astronomer is struck by the fact that Shibulata evinces no desire to learn from Western science, no curiosity about the telescope. He shows him photographs of galaxies invisible to the naked eye. The mama is not impressed. He is here to teach us, not to learn from us. Perhaps he recognizes the telescope as another manifestation of the same desire to conquer nature that has destroyed the forests and rivers and mangrove swamps near his home. He also displays an uncanny power, picking out from a large photograph the single star in it among multitudinous galaxies and other objects. Naming it, he says, “That star is not visible to our eyes.”

In this film, the colonial gaze is turned back on the colonizers—sternly, imploringly, and with very great love. The Kogi tell us, “You mutilate the world because you don’t remember the Great Mother. If you don’t stop, the world will die.” Please believe us, they say. You must stop doing this. “Do you think we say these words for the sake of talking? We are speaking the truth.”

Why hasn’t “little brother” listened? It has been over twenty years since the Kogi first spoke their message to the modern world. I think perhaps we have not listened because we have not yet inhabited the humility that this film embodies. We continue to try to somehow box, contain, and reduce the Kogi and their message so that it can rest comfortably in our existing Story of the World. The Kogi themselves say that thought is the scaffolding of matter; that without thought, nothing could exist. The official Aluna website describes the Kogi’s view thusly: “We are not just plundering the world, we are dumbing it down, destroying both the physical structure and the thought underpinning existence.” The conceptual reduction of the Kogi, and indigenous groups generally, to academic subjects, museum specimens, New Age fetish-objects, exploitable labor, or tourist spectacles is part of this dumbing down.

Thankfully, the requisite humility to truly hear the Kogi is fast upon us, born of—what else?—humiliation. As our dominant cultural mythology falls apart, we face repeated humiliation in the failure of our cherished systems of technology, politics, law, medicine, education, and more. Only with increasingly strenuous and willful ignorance can we deny that the grand project of “civilization” has failed. We see now that what we do to nature we do to ourselves; that its conquest brings our death. The utopian mirage of the technologist and the social engineer recedes ever further into the distance.

The breakdown of our categories and narratives, the breakdown of our Story of the World, gives us the gift of humility. That is the only thing that can open us to receive the teachings of the Kogi and other indigenous people—to truly receive them, and not merely insert them into some comfortable silo called “indigenous wisdom,” as if they were a museum piece or a spiritual acquisition.

I am not suggesting that we adopt, part and parcel, the entire Kogi cosmology. We need not imitate their shamanic practices or learn to listen to bubbles in the water. What we must do is embrace the core understanding that motivates the attempt to listen to water in the first place: the understanding that nature is alive and intelligent, bearing certain qualities of a self that Western thought has arrogated to human beings alone. We must make it no longer an Other; we must grant to nature the same agency that this film humbly grants to the Kogi. Then we will find our own ways of listening.

What Does Nature Want?

The modern mind does not easily comprehend the idea of the intelligence of nature except through anthropomorphizing or deifying it—another attempt at conquest. That would impose upon nature the same neocolonial attitude that this film does not impose upon the Kogi, and it is contrary to their message. Living much closer to nature than we in industrialized society, the Kogi can be under no illusion that nature is always nice, fair, and pleasant. From a dualistic mindset, the putative “intelligence of nature” looks like a capricious, evil intelligence. If you or I were in charge, we’d do better, wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t arrange for 999 tadpoles out of a thousand never to achieve froghood. We wouldn’t write so much suffering and death into nature. We would improve on nature. Such is the conceit of civilization as we know it.

To the extent we participate in modern society, “you and I” have been in charge. Look at what has happened to the world. Maybe it is time for younger brother—to see through different eyes.

Granting subjectivity and agency to nature and everything in it does not mean to grant human subjectivity andhuman agency, making them into storybook versions of us. It means asking, “What does the land want? What does the river want? What does the planet want?”—questions that seem crazy from the perspective of nature-as-thing.

The Kogi are not talking about a non-material, supernatural spirit to infuse consciousness into otherwise dead matter. For the Kogi, matter is not a container for thought; matter is thought made manifest, the thought of the Mother. Their beliefs are not actually supernatural, not in the sense of abstracting spirit (and all that goes with it like sacredness, consciousness, etc.) out from matter. To do so denies the inherent beingness of nature just as much as standard scientific materialism does.

Materialism, however, isn’t what it used to be. Science is evolving, recognizing that nature is composed of interdependent systems within systems within systems, just as a human body is; that soil mycorrhizal networks are as complex as brain tissue; that water can carry information and structure; that the earth and even the sun maintain homeostatic balance just as a body does. We are learning that order, complexity, and organization are fundamental properties of matter, mediated through physical processes that we recognize—and perhaps by others we do not. The excluded spirit is coming back to matter, not from without but from within.

So the question, “What does nature want?” does not depend for its coherency on anything supernatural, an external intelligence. The “wanting” is an organic process, an entelechy born of relationship, a movement toward an unfolding wholeness.

A Non-Utilitarian Argument Against Ecocide

In that understanding, we can no longer cut down forests and drain swamps, dam rivers and fragment ecosystems with roads, dig pit mines and drill gas wells with impunity. The Kogi say, to do so damages the whole body of nature, just as if you cut off a person’s limb or removed an organ. The well-being of all depends on the well-being of each. We cannot cut down one forest here and plant another there, assuring ourselves through the calculus of net carbon dioxide that we have done no damage. How do we know that we have not removed an organ? How do we know we have not destroyed what the Kogi call an esuana—a key node on the black thread scaffolding the natural world? How do we know we have not destroyed a sacred tree, what the Kogi call “the father of the species,” upon which the whole species depends?

Until we can know it, we’d best refrain from committing further ecocide on any scale. Each intact estuary, river, forest, and wetlands that remains to us, we must treat as sacred, while restoring whatever we can. The Kogi say we are close to the dying of the world.

As the film makes clear, science is beginning to recognize what the Kogi have always known. An invisible web of causality does indeed connect every place on Earth. Building a road that cuts off the natural water flow at a key site might initiate a cascade of changes—more evaporation, salinization, vegetation die-off, flooding, drought—that have far-reaching effects. We must understand that as exemplfying a general principle of interconnectedness; furthermore, we must see the aliveness and intelligence of the world. As the Kogi say in the film, “If you knew she could feel, you would stop.”

Otherwise, we are left only with the logic of instrumental utilitarianism as reason to protect nature—save the rainforest because of its value to us. But that mindset is part of the problem. We need more love, not more self-interest. We know it is wrong to exploit another person for our own gain, because another person is a full subject with her own feelings, desires, pain, and joy. If we knew that nature too were a full subject, we would stop ravaging her as well.

Aluna brings this knowing a little closer. Only by hardening our hearts can we view the film’s images of filled-in swamps and bare, scarred mountains, and disbelieve that something is feeling very great pain. Only by the colonialistic dismissal of an entire culture’s cosmology and ways of knowing, can we uphold our own dying mythology of nature as an insensate source of materials and repository of wastes. The sober indignation of the Kogi defies easy dismissal. It is not hard to believe that they—the largest intact civilization that has remained separate from global industrialized society—are indeed “Elder Brother.” It is not hard to believe their warning. To act on it, though, might require the same courage, patience, and wisdom the film reveals in the Kogi.