The Souls of Ordinary Things

Going through back issues of Alternative Therapies in Health Medicine, I came across one of Dr. Larry Dossey’s profound and intricate essays that he called editorials—they were far more than that—when he was the editor of that journal.  It’s  called “When Stones Speak: Toward a Reenchantment of the World.”

I wish I could link it the way I can a web site, but it’s in a scholarly journal you’d have to get through an academic library database. It would be worth the effort to look it up if you can. It’s in Vol. 2 #4, pp 8-13 and 97-98, July 1996.

Dossey examines the possibility that consciousness can move beyond human minds—that it pervades all things, from fish to musical instruments to the implements a physician uses again and again in the practice of medicine. He suggests that we share traces of our souls with our objects, and cites scientists who consider seriously that inanimate things are “rich with pattern and information.”

If you’re a regular listener to Car Talk on NPR, you’ve already thought about this, of course. The discussion of whether cars have souls has been going on for some time. The callers and the hosts seem to agree that some cars have souls and some don’t. There have been some fascinating conversations about detecting the presence of a car’s soul. I remember a neighbor who had to part with his ancient VW Rabbit when it was beyond repair. He went down to the parking lot of our apartment building and sat with the Rabbit late at night, as if it was a dying friend. To him, that car had a soul. They had a relationship.

My new Environmental Define Fund thanks-for-contributing water bottle arrived in the mail today. Shiny brushed aluminum decorated with the EDF logo and the face and front paws of a polar bear happily basking on the edge of some ice, it’s a replacement for the one I lost. Identical bear. But no soul. The old bottle was dented and scratched from being dropped on the cement at Santa Fe Bandstand. The Robert Mirabal concert was in one dent, a memory in the soul of the thing. Another dent remembers me waltzing to Michael Hearne’s rendition of “New Mexico Rain.”

My psychic protagonist Mae Martin could pick up an object like that bottle and read the stories in its soul, if she had a reason to look for them. Many years ago I heard John Sebastian sing a song about lying back on the bed in some hotel and listening to the stories it could tell. I think it replayed for me subconsciously when I wrote the prologue of The Calling, and the scene in which Mae realizes, with some dismay, that she can listen to the stories an old bed can tell.

The energy carried by ordinary things can be negative as well as positive, haunting and dark, not always nostalgic. Something clings to a murder weapon, and to a house where violence took place. In some indigenous traditions the names of the dead leave the world with them. Saying the name can call back the ghost. Relatives may give away everything that belonged to the dead, sending the spirit on its way. Our things may not only trigger our memories, they may have memories of their own. Would that explain famous “cursed” objects that carry bad luck?

My Zuni fetishes were created to have spirits. My barefoot running shoes have acquired their souls with time. My yoga mats have energy in them, but not souls. Which things do you own that have souls?

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