Indigenous myths, animal ESP, and portents of apocalyptic transformation

Here’s science writer Carrie Arnold, in a newly published article at Aeon titled “Watchers of the Earth,” discussing the possibility that indigenous myths may carry warning signals for natural disasters:

Shortly before 8am on 26 December 2004, the cicadas fell silent and the ground shook in dismay. The Moken, an isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, knew that the Laboon, the ‘wave that eats people’, had stirred from his ocean lair. The Moken also knew what was next: a towering wall of water washing over their island, cleansing it of all that was evil and impure. To heed the Laboon’s warning signs, elders told their children, run to high ground.

The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were directly in the path of the tsunami generated by the magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Final totals put the islands’ death toll at 1,879, with another 5,600 people missing. When relief workers finally came ashore, however, they realised that the death toll was skewed. The islanders who had heard the stories about the Laboon or similar mythological figures survived the tsunami essentially unscathed. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern Nicobar Islands. Part of the reason was the area’s geography, which generated a higher wave. But also at the root was the lack of a legacy; many residents in the city of Port Blair were outsiders, leaving them with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.

Humanity has always courted disaster. We have lived, died and even thrived alongside vengeful volcanoes and merciless waves. Some disasters arrive without warning, leaving survival to luck. Often, however, there is a small window of time giving people a chance to escape. Learning how to crack open this window can be difficult when a given catastrophe strikes once every few generations. So humans passed down stories through the ages that helped cultures to cope when disaster inevitably struck. These stories were fodder for anthropologists and social scientists, but in the past decade, geologists have begun to pay more attention to how indigenous peoples understood, and prepared for, disaster. These stories, which couched myth in metaphor, could ultimately help scientists prepare for cataclysms to come.

Reading this triggered a flood of associated thoughts this morning, mostly related to things I’ve read elsewhere that resonate with it. Although the basic focus is different, for me this article somewhat recalls a starkly apocalyptic and millenarian passage from the ending to Benjamin Hoff’s The Te of Piglet (1992), a book that many readers found off-putting for its semi-grimness, which represented a departure from the more charmingly whimsical presentation of Taoism that Hoff had adopted in its predecessor, The Tao of Pooh:

As Taoists have long observed and remarked on, something taken to its extreme turns into its opposite: Extreme Yang (masculine) becomes Yin (feminine), and so on. The present age of man — an extreme if there ever was one — might well be called the Age of the Warrior. Man against man, man against earth . . . So, according to the Taoist principle, the coming age will be an Age of the Healer, or something of the sort. But first will come what could be called a Great Purification.

As our planet takes action to cast out its man-made poisons and heal its man-caused wounds, many human inhabitants will no doubt give way to fear. Many will cling to seemingly powerful we’re-God’s-chosen-people religions, hoping that by so doing they will be saved from the wrath of a Vengeful God (not recognizing that the approaching “vengeance” will in reality be man’s own actions coming back at him — and not recognizing that the Infinite Universal Power is far more than the narrow-minded gatekeeper of an exclusive Spiritual Country Club.) Many will find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, because because did not pay enough attention to what the natural world was telling them. And many will curse the world, and believe that they have been cursed by it.

But in reality we are the most fortunate generation since recorded human history began. For when the necessary cleansing is over, we will witness a magical transformation of the world around us by the forces of the earth. And we will see for ourselves what the ancient Taoists meant by the Age of Perfect Virtue.

Shifting the focus from humans to the wider world of animal life on earth, both of these also recall the reports of animals behaving strangely and even fleeing to higher ground prior to the 2004 tsunami, which sparked speculations that animals may have been alerted to what was coming via some perceptual faculty that would seem, from our human point of view, to be extrasensory:

Before giant waves slammed into Sri Lanka and India coastlines ten days ago, wild and domestic animals seemed to know what was about to happen and fled to safety. According to eyewitness accounts, the following events happened:

  • Elephants screamed and ran for higher ground.
  • Dogs refused to go outdoors.
  • Flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas.
  • Zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out.

The belief that wild and domestic animals possess a sixth sense — and know in advance when the earth is going to shake — has been around for centuries. Wildlife experts believe animals’ more acute hearing and other senses might enable them to hear or feel the Earth’s vibration, tipping them off to approaching disaster long before humans realize what’s going on.

The massive tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 9 temblor off the coast of northern Sumatra island on December 26. The giant waves rolled through the Indian Ocean, killing more than 150,000 people in a dozen countries. Relatively few animals have been reported dead, however, reviving speculation that animals somehow sense impending disaster. . . .

Alan Rabinowitz, director for science and exploration at the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, says animals can sense impending danger by detecting subtle or abrupt shifts in the environment. “Earthquakes bring vibrational changes on land and in water while storms cause electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere,” he said. “Some animals have acute sense of hearing and smell that allow them to determine something coming towards them long before humans might know that something is there.” At one time humans also had this sixth sense, Rabinowitz said, but lost the ability when it was no longer needed or used.

— “Did Animals Sense Tsunami Was Coming?”, National Geographic, January 4, 2005

(Also see Slate’s “Surviving the Tsunami: What Sri Lanka’s Animals Knew That Humans Didn‘t” and The Telegraph’sDid They Sense the Tsunami?“)

Then there are Eckhart Tolle’s words on the same subject in A New Earth (2005), where he contextualizes this animal behavior within a framework of Jungian synchronicity and psychological/ontological holism:

The whole is made up of existence and Being, the manifested and the unmanifested, the world and God. So when you become aligned with the whole, you become a conscious part of the interconnectedness of the whole and its purpose: the emergence of consciousness into this world. As a result, spontaneous helpful occurrences, chance encounters, coincidences, and synchronistic events happen much more frequently. Carl Jung called synchronicity an acausal connecting principle. This means there is no causal connection between synchronistic events on our surface level of reality. It is an outer manifestation of an underlying intelligence behind the world of appearances and a deeper connectedness that our mind cannot understand. But we can be conscious participants in the unfolding of that intelligence, the flowering consciousness.

Nature exists in a state of unconscious oneness with the whole. This, for example, is why no virtually no wild animals were killed in the tsunami disaster of 2004. Being more in touch with the totality than humans, they could sense the tsunami’s approach long before it could be seen or heard and so had time to withdraw to higher terrain. Perhaps even that is looking at it from a human perspective. They probably just found themselves moving to higher terrain. Doing this because of that is the mind’s way of cutting up reality; whereas nature lies in unconscious oneness with the whole.

And all of the above plays into some interesting additional passages from Tolle’s book, which I have quoted here previously, and which deal with the idea of an impending apocalyptic transformation in human society and on earth as a whole that is synchronistically linked to the fact of human consciousness having reached a new evolutionary threshold:

Collectively, we are at a point where the old — I call it the old, dysfunctional, egoic state of consciousness — has become extremely dangerous. We can go back 100 years ago, which is 1914, when World War I started, and that was the first time humans fully realized how insane warfare was because of all the advances in technology that had happened by that time. Millions upon millions of people died in World War I from chemical warfare, tanks, poison gas, machine guns and all the other clever inventions of the egoic mind. That was the first time we realized the magnitude of the dysfunction in the collective consciousness, as it became amplified by the advances in science and technology.

We have reached a point now where if there’s no shift in consciousness away from the dysfunctional, egoic state that generates all that insanity, then humans would most likely destroy themselves, or at least bring about a complete collapse of civilization. We have arrived at a point of great danger, collectively, but danger also means great opportunity for change. There’s a fundamental universal truth, and that is humans do not change until they reach a point of crisis. That applies not only to individuals, but it also applies to humanity as a whole. It’s only when we reach a state of crisis, the suffering that it produces creates the impetus behind the shift in consciousness. This is the point that we have reached now, and we’ve been moving towards this for the past 100 years. . . .

The ego is destined to dissolve, and all its ossified structures, whether they be religious or other institutions, corporations, or governments, will disintegrate from within, no matter how deeply entrenched they appear to be. The most rigid structures, the most impervious to change, will collapse first. This has already happened in the case of Soviet Communism. How deeply entrenched, how solid and monolithic it appeared, and yet within a few years, it disintegrated from within. No one foresaw this. All were taken by surprise. There are many more such surprises in store for us.

. . . . A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die. A still relatively small but rapidly growing percentage of humanity is already experiencing within themselves the breakup of the old egoic mind patterns and the emergence of a new dimension in consciousness. . . .

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a prediction that to this day few people have understood. He says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “In modern versions of the Bible, “meek” is translated as humble. Who are the meek or the humble, and what does it mean that they shall inherit the earth?

“The meek are the egoless. They are those who have awakened to their essential true nature as consciousness and recognize that essence in all “others,” in all life-forms. They live in the surrendered state and so feel their oneness with the whole and the Source. They embody the awakened consciousness that is changing all aspects of life on our planet, including nature, because life on earth is inseparable from the human consciousness that perceives and interacts with it. That is the sense in which the meek will inherit the earth.

So these are just some puzzle pieces for an idle moment’s meditation. (And to think, only two weeks ago I was introducing students in a college literature class to “The Call of Cthulhu” with its warning to let sleeping Old Ones lie by letting  dissociated knowledge remain that way.)

About Matt Cardin


Posted on April 13, 2017, in Psychology & Consciousness, Society & Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This reminds me of Lynne Kelly. She is the author of two books on indigenous memory systems: “Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies” and “The Memory Code”. She doesn’t directly discuss extreme weather, such as earthquakes and storms. But it would fit into her work.

    The inspiration for her theory was, in doing research to write a book on a particular species, she talked to some Australian Aborigines and she was impressed by their vast knowledge of the world around them. She does point out that the Aborigines live on one of the harshest environments on the planet with many weather extremes. Their knowledge is very exacting, since their lives are dependent on it.

    Related to the rest of your post, I always wonder how ancient and/or non-Western mindsets might indicate new directions for human development, specifically in terms of consciousness. There are a few hints in Kelly’s books that the indigenous memory systems don’t simply create the conditions for knowledge-keeping but also for different states of mind. They don’t just remember a piece of info but enter into an entire field of knowledge that embodies as fully sensory worldview.

    When I read books like that of Kelly’s, I always see it in connection to another field of study. The thinkers that come to mind are Ong, Dodds, Jaynes, McGilchrist, etc. I wonder if Kelly has discovered a key piece of the puzzle, the kind of practices that makes an entirely different kind of society possible. That world was largely destroyed by writing systems. But as we lament the death of a society dedicated to or rather obsessed with the written word, it’s possible that some traces of that other mindset could take root again.

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