William Seabrook - Nago-ba metaphysics and the nature of the universe
Type of Spiritual Experience
This is from a truly wonderful book that described Seabrook’s adventures in Africa. I think the quote is extraordinary because it rather emphasises that we should stop reinventing a wheel that was discovered several thousand years ago and just use the wheel
A description of the experience
William Seabrook – Jungle Ways
He was patient, but it was slow and difficult, and out of it as we talked late that night and again for a whole morning, there began to emerge a system of metaphysics as idealistic and perhaps as pure, but also just as complicated, as anything ever formulated by Plato and the Greeks …..
For Nago-Ba here, strange as it may sound, with his wooden idols, iron grigris, and devil-masks, believed that the material world was nothing, and that the only ultimate reality was a spiritual reality.
Furthermore, his conception of the nature of matter, which he and his forbears had held from immemorial jungle time, was so startlingly parallel with our own newest revolutionary scientific conclusions that one almost asks whether civilized metaphysical science hasn't been simply moving in a circle. Fifty years ago we thought we knew that a stone wall was a stone wall. Now we say that a stone has no material substance whatsoever - in fact, that matter, as such, does not exist – that the only basic unity is a kinetic unity of energy.
And just what energy may be in the last abstract we do not know. Our half-dozen greatest chemists and physicists have, in that non religious sense, turned completely mystic in their laboratories. With test tubes and alembics instead of abracadabra and divining wands, they find themselves knocking again at the door of the infinite. And, crazy as it may sound to the casual layman, the concepts held today by advanced science in our greatest universities concerning the ultimate nature of a stone, of life, of vital energy, of time and spatial dimensions are closer to the concepts of the black African witch-doctor than to those of our own scientific leaders of twenty years ago.
….I sought to learn from him what doctrine the forest Negro really holds concerning life after death and the nature of the soul. Here, then, is Nago-Ba's profession of faith, as near as I can reproduce it in white terminology.
He believes that everything which lives - man, beast, insect, tree, and plant - has not only its kinetic vital quality, its life-spark, but a ‘soul quality’ [higher spirit] as well, which is independent of both the body and the vital spark, and hence immortal.
He believes also that every object which we call inanimate, such as a mountain or a stone, likewise a river or a ploughed field, though lacking any vital spark, is also endowed with this sentient soul quality.
His doctrine becomes, therefore, an all-embracing animism.
The soul is the essence and real nature of each thing that exists. The vital spark which a man, beast, or tree has, and a stone has not, is mechanical, soulless, and impersonal. It is like an electric current, a non-sentient blind agent, and the embodied soul's chief busy occupation is guiding it, so that it in turn will operate the mechanism of the body. The soul, directing this current makes the body move and talk, u the body is in reality only a mechanical doll. The man himself is neither the mechanical body nor the mechanical current, but an immortal spirit