The Soul of the World

The Soul of the World

What is the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World? The idea harkens back to the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, possibly even further. We know that Plato wrote of it in his day:


Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related (Plato, Timaeus, 29/30; 4th century BCE).

The world is a living being and is connected to the natural world as the human Soul is one with the body. As above, so below. This idea flourished in Neoplatonism and, later, Renaissance Hermeticism. Plotinus honed Plato’s idea into a powerful cosmological and metaphysical teaching.

Within the context of his mystical metaphysics, Plotinus developed a clearer concept of “world-soul” (Latin: Anima mundi) than Plato’s idea in Timaeus. Plato presented the concept of “demiurge” (from the Greek δημιουργός dēmiourgós, Latinized demiurgus, meaning “artisan” or “craftsman,” literally “worker in the service of the people,” from δήμιος “of the people” + ἔργον “work”), a creative deity, who designed and structured the order of the cosmos, but not the creator of the cosmos itself.

Plotinus conceived this process of the creation of the cosmos as an “emanation from the One.” He argued that “nous” (Greek: νοῦς or νόος; mind or intellect) and “world-soul” were emanated from the divine origin, which he called the One. In the context of the emanation, Plotinus explained the soul of the cosmos. Plotinus’s view of the creation of the universe is more naturalistic than the Christian concept of Creation (New World Encyclopedia).

Instead of creatio ex nihilo, Plotinus offered the idea of emanatio ex Deo (emanation from God). The entire cosmological theory of Plotinus involves emanations from the One.

By the time of the Renaissance, the idea of Anima Mundi became a prominent teaching among many thinkers who leaned toward the esoteric. The Roman Church seemed to have problems with this view. In the late 1590’s, the Inquisition accused Giordano Bruno of pantheism simply because he espoused the teaching of the Anima Mundi. Earlier so-called heresies, such as the various Gnostic sects, adhered to this view, as well. The alchemists had adopted it too.

The Church Fathers envisioned a world that was not divine, was not sacred. It is difficult to understand how they arrived at this when Christ Himself seemed to honor the natural world. Remember the story,

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these (Matt 6:28-29)?

Nature is sacred. No doubt about it. One wonders what the Church Fathers were thinking!

Nature is sacred because there is living Soul connected to it.

Humans are sacred because there is living Soul connected to them.

Just as I have written concerning our Celestial Twin, who guides us and teaches us as we meander down life’s winding road, the World Soul too, has a Celestial Twin, who I believe to be the god, Hermes.  He guides and teaches Her what She needs to do. As above, so below. We are all connected, to each other, to our Twin, and to the Anima Mundi.

Just as the alchemists sought to extract gold from matter, we are called to bring forth the divine light from within us. There is an essence of divinity in matter. It is not an evil prison for the fallen soul. Rather, matter is filled with light, but it is up to us to bring it out of darkness. The Anima Mundi is diffused throughout Nature, where all matter is specked with fiery sparks of divinity. Look closely at  a fully-bloomed rose and tell me Nature is not sacred. It is, indeed!

The World Soul is not a fixed or defined substance, but a living substance made out of the hopes, dreams, and deepest imaginings of humanity and of all creation. This is the home of creation’s collective memories and the myths of humanity. Here are the archetypes and powers that define our life. Here are hidden places of magical meaning, places where dreams can come into being. We have lived for so long in the stark barrenness of a rational landscape that we have forgotten the potency that lies beneath the surface. Flowing through the pathways created by our conscious connection to the anima mundi, our light will find its way to places of power that are within the world, places where deeper layers of meaning are waiting to come alive (Anima Mundi: Awakening the Soul of the World, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee).

Just as the human Soul is not an objective substance, so also is the Anima Mundi. What James Hillman said about the human Soul applies to the World Soul, as well:

By soul I mean, first of all, a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself. This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment — and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground (Re-Visioning Psychology).

The Anima Mundi is reflective of what is occurring in our world, its body. This reflection is mediatorial; as Ficino said, “it may rightly be called the center of nature, the middle term of all things, the face of all, the bond and juncture of the universe.” I believe that natural disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, are a direct result of estrangement from the Anima Mundi. The fault of this lies with the Roman Church, for promoting the division between spirit and Nature, then to scientism for de-souling the world. These days, capitalism is the cause of much antagonism between humanity and the World Soul. Oil spills, unbelievable pollution, and countless wars-for-profit desecrate this planet. The church’s teaching that man has dominion over the earth has reaped very ugly rewards. Greedy profiteers will stop at nothing to gain more filthy lucre, at the expense of Nature and its Soul.

If we estrange ourselves from our souls, we also estrange ourselves from the World Soul. This will leave us to fall into an fathomless abyss of nihilism, and an empty life.

Begin to free the light of the World Soul from yourselves so that all the earth will be engulfed in its pure light.

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