The physical stage

The physical stage

This stage could also be called ‘pre-historical' because there are no written records, and it was by far the longest period of human history (archaeologists are saying that the first modern humans appeared about 160 000 years ago). It consisted of ‘hunter-gatherer' communities, usually organised in relatively small groups (tribes) with a low level of hierarchical differentiation. Such a society was in a relative unity with the environment, but instinctively rather than consciously (this state ‘before the fall' was encapsulated in the story of Eden and other similar myths). The separation between the subject and the object only gradually occurred. Personality was not valued - a common use of masks indicates that an individual only represented something. Physical determinants (including the physical environment) and the first ring were dominant. The writer J. N. Sansonese notes that ‘the more ancient the myth, the more often do parts of the human body play an explicit role in the myth' (1994, p.7).

In religion, elements of the physical world were worshiped: celestial objects (the Sun, Moon), the natural forces, as well as animals and plants that often had supernatural powers. In other words, nature was subjectivised. Deities were immanent (they became transcendent only later on). Rituals were based on the physical and instinctual (e.g. trance induced by rhythmic and repetitive sound and movement, or by the use of psychotropic drugs). The after-death life was inextricably fused with physical reality. Magic was a dominant way to control and learn about the world (through sorcerers or directly).

An abstract notion of time did not exist, significant events were used as a reference point instead. It is likely that art had a practical (magical) function. As any other stage, this one also had its dark side (e.g. body mutilation). However, its value should be recognised and respected. A lack of further rings can be facilitative to intuitive insights. Although there are no written records, the notions of the One, the Intent, reincarnation and the soul (atman) seem to be rooted, in a rudimentary form, in this period. Some societies have remained at this stage, either because their physical survival has been too demanding, or they have been isolated, or did not want to go further (e.g. because they have been well integrated with their environment). Nevertheless, they have contributed to many areas of modern life: education, medicine, art (music, painting), alternative life style (hippy communes), psychology (e.g. the effects of psychotropic plants), spirituality, anthropological understanding. This is not to say that this stage should be idealised. Even at present, there is a huge diversity between the groups within it (as a renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead made clear), of which some may be primitive and some may not.