The Fifth World

Place

Place means everything to the people of the Fifth World. Communities define themselves in relation to a territory, by which they mean, more than anything else, a collection of specific places. For people in the Fifth World, places do not merely provide the setting and backdrop for their lives: in fact, they often see the places as the primary actors, and individuals like themselves as taking part in the life that places have to offer.

##Spirit of Place The way that people in the Fifth World think of their own imagination and intelligence has shifted. They do not think of these as faculties that they “possess’’ as individuals, but rather, as processes that unfold in a particular place, which one can engage in. People don’t think — places do. People have the opportunity to participate in the phenomena of intelligence and imagination that occurs at a given place.

From the ancient civilized point of view, of course, this sounds like pure fantasy, but in the century leading up to civilization’s collapse, scientists built up a body of data that seemed to support this ancient worldview. They discovered that emotions acted more like senses than thoughts, indicating internal state and external situation. Thus, just as we look at a landscape and conclude that the reality that we perceive lies in the landscape and not in our internal neurological processes, one could similarly conclude that when we feel the reality that we perceive lies in the world around us and our relationship to it. They also discovered that far from separation or opposition, rationality grows out of emotion. Rational thought requires emotion the way plants require soil and water. Thoughts occur to us, and how we think follows from our emotions, and all of these things come from the world around us — so how can we say that the people of the Fifth World have it wrong when they conclude that the phenomena of imagination and intelligence lies in places, and they can go participate in them, just as the sight of a landscape exists in the land, and one can go see it?

The singular magic of a place is evident from what happens there, from what befalls oneself or others when in its vicinity. The songs proper to a specific site will share a common style, a rhythm that matches the pulse of the place, attuned to the way things happen there — to the sharpness of the shadows or the rippling speech of water bubbling up from the ground. In traditional Ireland, a country person might journey to one distant spring in order to cure her insomnia, to another for strengthening her ailing eyesight, and to yet another to receive insight and protection from thieves. For each spring has its own powers, its own blessings, and its own curses. Different gods dwell in different places, and different demons. Each place has its own dynamism, its own patterns of movement, and these patterns engage the senses and relate them in particular ways, instilling particular moods and modes of awareness, so that unlettered, oral people will rightly say that each place has its own mind, its own personality, its own intelligence. David Abram, “The Spell of the Sensuous’’

Relationship with humans

See Tending the Land

By shifting the locus of intelligence from people to places, the people of the Fifth World do not believe that they have diminished or undermined their own importance at all. Each place has its own spirit or intelligence, but humans can move between them. They conceive of human intellect not as an attribute or faculty, but a mode of awareness which allows us to appreciate the intelligence that dwells in each place. We can care for such places —

  • physically, by tending to each place’s ecological health,
  • mentally, by visiting to partake of each place’s unique intelligence,
  • spiritually, by telling the stories or singing the songs of a place, revitalizing its unique spirit, and
  • emotionally, by experiencing, embodying, and living out the emotions that each place cultivates

But neither do they consider any of this the “exclusive’’ responsibility of human beings. All animals together form the mobile layer of the landscape, and each has its own ways to tend places, and each expresses the spirit and intelligence of each place in its own unique way.

Names

See Names

Every place tells a story — the story of itself, hinted at in the specific ways that things happen there, shaped by its presence and attributes. Names condense stories down to a vocal gesture, evoking the entire story for one who knows it in a single utterance. To truly know the name of a place, you must know its story — then you can understand what the name refers to. To know its story, you must understand the place deeply.

Many people in the Fifth World find it comforting to simply recite the names of places in their family’s territories. The names evoke the stories of those places, and so the essence and experience of them, so vividly that repeating the names gives one a sense of going there and experiencing it. This can reaffirm the connection between community and land, which many people find quite comforting.

Some communities craft stories tied to places where things happen which illustrate lessons about how one should live one’s life. The places themselves thus become guides for individuals to live well. When they travel far from home, some such people feel that they lose their way without the places they know to give them strength and guidance. Sometimes people rely more heavily on the practice of reciting the names of places when they travel to stave off this very effect.

Communication

People in the Fifth World frequently refer to places as speaking to them. They do not mean this metaphorically, and consider it one of the simplest, most straightforward things in the world. Some of their long-dead ancestors would find this claim utterly preposterous, but it comes back, again, to shifting where we focus our attention when we consider the phenomenon of thought. If one considers intelligence something that happens in a place, and which a human may participate in, then the thoughts that occur to a person in that place really do come from it, and not from one’s “own imagination,” since the place imagines, not the person. After a lifetime of careful ecological observation, people in the Fifth World can come to brilliant intuitive leaps about what a place needs, and as these occur unconsciously, they have no way to describe what happened but to say that the place spoke to them and told them what it needed. And in fact, this accurately describes what has happened, doesn’t it? The distinction between the lived experience of someone in the Fifth World, to whom a place literally speaks, and the scientific justifications that a long-dead ancestor from centuries before might imagine lies only in how we choose to phrase it. Speaking of unconscious processing and thin slicing doesn’t change the experience of it, nor does it provide any extra illumination than the simpler and more honest description that a place spoke, just as a detailed description of vibrating tissues in the larynx doesn’t improve upon the words, “she said.”