La Pensée Sauvage

Thursday May 23rd 2013
Lévi- Strauss’s seminal book La Pensee Sauvage is translated into English as the Savage Mind, which is not quite right, of course, and sounds vaguely pejorative. Sauvage means wild, as in the opposite of domesticated. Pensée is thought. So you could read this more as Untamed Thinking. Another direct translation is Wild Pansy.

If you look at the myths of a culture collectively, you see that they are like a hall of mirrors. There is no one authentic, original myth. Instead the stories reflect and evolve in response to each other. It’s like a continuous debate. Each tale takes the previous one and transforms it.; then maybe reflects it back and the previous one is changed. There is a binary, oppositional quality to this way of thinking, but it is not exclusively so.

I have just listened to this précis of some of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’ thinking on the Radio 4 show In Our Time, which you can listen to via the BBC website. The speaker was Adam Kuper.

Levi-Strauss spent a century – he lived to be a hundred – investigating universality in human thought. One of his chief inspirations was the thousands of Native American myths which he had learned by heart, much like his contemporary the mythologist Joseph Campbell.

His conclusion – very roughly – was that the untamed mind thinks in terms of myth and structure.

That is also how astrologers think. We are looking for patterns and stories. So in immersing ourselves in astrology, we are engaging with that deeper, pre-scientific way of thinking, trying to open our minds to the wild pansy.

Levi-Strauss by the way had Pallas Athena, the asteroid of pattern, weaving and structure, in Scorpio (depthsextile his Moon in Capricorn (nurtured by the ancestors) and forming a Yod to his North Node on the MC in Gemini (stories and ideas as legacy and lifetime achievement).

If you want to read a mythological hall of mirrors, you could try The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso, which is an evocation of Greek myth.

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  1. What wonderful articles you write! I love your intelligence and how you consistently open me to new material (like this!). I have long used myth as a way of viewing my life and it has had a profound effect on my own writing. Thank you so much for the work you do! Your frequent posts light up for me every time I see a new one.

  2. FWIW says:

    Finally youre speaking my language.

    I recently had this realisation – as a result of a constant argument with my bank and isp – that what was happening, what we all do, and do without realising as we have been brought up in a society that trains everyone to be like this is to fill in the blanks with whatever we can think of. Of course their are certain restrictions. For instance it must be reasonable, and logical. For instance if I were to say “today it is raining. I went and bought an umbrella” or “today it is sunny and warm. I went out and bought an umbrella”. In the first instance if I were to ask why I bought an umbrella, would the answer be because it is raining and you wanted to sheild yourself from the rain. In the second instance would I be buying the umbrella because I fear it will be raining? The point is that neither statement has indicated why the umbrella was bought. The listener has filled in the blanks, has tried to make sense of the situation. We do this with everything as we are all trying to make sense of the world, trying to find meaning. We are all in a Platos cave looking at the shadows and interpreting and reinterpreting what we see in an endless cycle. Interstingly it is only those times that one of our interpretations is so wrong that it bites us on the arse that we realise that we are wrong. We could be wrong about so many other things, but time moves on, and if we get away with it we think we must be correct.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post Christina, thanks. There is also some interesting work being carried out by Nicola Grove and Keith Park, in the field of adults with learning difficulties. She’s a speech and language therapist, he’s a special ed teacher, I was lucky enough to take part in an interactive storytelling day with them at The Globe theatre in London. They believe that an intrinsic part of being human, is the story that we create about ourselves and our lives. We can tell it with our words, but also with our bodies. In sandtray work that I’ve done with children and adults, it is very clear that the soul already knows its own path in this life, and it speaks to us in myth, dream and longing.

    • Christina says:

      … and of course on that path we may take wrong turnings, get lost, take a short-cut or end up in a cul-de-sac. What astrology does is provide a rather fuzzy compass to help us refind the right direction.

  4. Sabrina says:

    You are making me think of my son’s scorpio mercury conj lilith. Thanks for the translation, makes more sense to me.