In a major work entitled The Savage Mind, Claude Levi-Strauss opposes two types of mental functioning: rational thought, dominant in developed countries, and mythical thought, a treat for the last savage peoples.
After a youth spent in the field studying the last tribal societies of Amazonia, the French anthropologist developed a holistic vision of a rare universality and depth. The wisdom of his analyzes made him, during his lifetime, the favorite thinker of the French. He left this world without regret, a world for him unattractive, without depth, without perspectives. But this sad end should not make us forget the originality and the relevance of his thought.
For me, his point of view as an anthropologist and a philosopher has always had magic resonances. His distinction between rational mind and savage mind very exactly overlaps that of Native American sorcerers who oppose the right side and the left side, the tonal and the nagual.
Tonal and Nagual
These notions belong to the world of Native American sorcerers, precisely to the universe of Carlos Castaneda. They are very far from our mental universe, firstly because they are neither mental nor intellectual, but rather of the order of an intuition coming from the depths of being, a knowledge of the body. The nagual designates several non-ordinary realities:
– a human being, man or woman, who is not quite the head of the wizarding clan, but the one who turns the magic wheel.
– a superhuman force, without form or thought, which establishes its reign in the wee hours of the night. In this sense, the nagual merges with power.
– one of the two domains of human activity, that which is so magical that it is difficult to define it, to describe it in words, even to define it. What is not tonal is nagual.
Very well, you will say to me. So what is tonal? It’s the ordinary world. The mind. The intellect. The representation that we have of energies, forms and beings. Matter. The emotions. Religions and beliefs. Atheism.
In fact, the tonal covers all of human activity in this world. The nagual belongs to another world, governed by the Rule. Beyond and below the ordinary world is the wizarding world, ruled by the nagual.
The Wild Mind
The wild mind described by Lévi-Strauss is a non-thought, made of immediate knowledge and intuitive knowledge. Does it belong to the nagual? No. It is still in the tonal. Like history, like science. Like mythologies. Like the myth to which it owes a lot …
Everything happens as if this thought did not come from the brain, but from the deep body. We have neurons all over the body, not just the brain. But unlike those in the brain, the body’s neurons are not connected by synapses. Our brain therefore ignores their content. Which makes the medical profession say that these neurons are useless.
What a mistake ! They produce intelligence, so they are useful. The doctors agree, but this intelligence is not conscious. Yes and so ? What is an intelligence that is not conscious called? The unconscious, quite simply. We have neurons that contain all of the hidden memory of our unconscious mind, and these neurons are distributed throughout our body. And especially in the part of the intestine called the colon.
These neurons are not useless, quite the contrary. We use it often. but for us, their content remains unconscious. Could it be that the wild ones are consciously using these neurons? Yes, I believe it. Could it be that the unconscious is linked to savage thought? I believe it too. And here’s why. Wild mind is less about reflection than action. It gives archetypes, models of behavior that some call instinct.
But wild mind is much more than just using instinct. It is the only remain of the golden age. It opens wide the doors of perception. It gives ground to the myth. Why is it so important?
Myth is the key to the world and the true side of history. It gives us access to realities that are unimaginable. The truth about our past. The clue of our origin. All that reason fights. Everything it refuses. Anything beyond it.
The reason is a stopgap, a poor consolation, as in the expression: we must make a reason. The truth is beyond. It has neither rhyme nor reason. It hovers over the surface of the water. It circulates in the depths of our body. It is by taking the myths head-on that we see the wonders they contain. And that are so lacking in our time.
To re-enchant the world, it is enough to rehabilitate ancient myths. But it is more and more difficult in this world without magic. The myth has been reduced to farce and falsehood, as in the expression: this man is a mytho. Mythomania is a mental illness which consists in taking oneself for what one is not. It is sometimes confused with megalomania. This aspect of the myth has nothing to do with ancient myths. You have to take it out of your mind if you want to take myths with the seriousness and confidence they deserve.
In its contemporary sense, the myth also has positive aspects. There is for example the myth which magnifies existence, as in the expression: this devil of man is a living myth. Or even: a mythical film, a mythical car. We are then much closer to the primary meaning: the myth is a historical account of a period too great to belong to human history.
You have to believe. Absolutely believe it, yes. But without believing it. It seems impossible, yet it is the only way to find out where we come from.
Honest are you who don’t believe in legends! Have you forgotten what legenda means in Latin? What deserves to be read. Meditate on it and stop hesitating.
There was a time when all men were magic, when all women were fairies. (source)