O, Great Spirit.
Earth, Sun, Sky and Sea,
You are inside,
And all around me.
Listening to this hauntingly beautiful rendition by Robert Gass moves me to a place within my own psyche where I can reflect upon and experience the simple and yet profound wisdom contained within its verses. The Divine Presence is at once both immanent and transcendent, within and without. The concept of "Great Spirit" is probably humankind's first primordial attempt to know, understand and relate to the Divine Presence. Nowadays, particularly in the US, when we hear the term "Great Spirit," Native American traditions almost always come to mind. However, a cursory look at world mythology through the eyes of a cultural anthropologist and psychologist will reveal that the concept of "Great Spirit" has archetypal qualities.
In Jungian terms, an "archetype" is an unconscious and undifferentiated "element" that resides in the collective unconscious of all human beings. An archetype can be likened to a latent image in conventional photography. An unstable and unrecognizable image is imprinted on a piece of film or paper. This latent image is real and has all of the potential to become a beautiful photograph (or a horrible one), but it must be developed and stabilized by outside processes under specific conditions. Then it becomes something that is "real" to us, something tangible that can be admired or abhorred. Likewise, all human beings have latent impressions of archetypes (Shadow, Mother, Hero, Great Spirit, etc.). When an archetype — any archetype — is developed through personal experiences and fixed in human consciousness, then it becomes something "real" to us, something that we can use for weal or woe.
The archetypal "Great Spirit" is the primal impression of the Divine Presence in the collective unconscious. Somewhere in the very early development of human consciousness, we became aware of our own existence, and aware of the existence of a Divine Presence, a Divine Something, that was present both in ourselves and in the universe. We did not (and do not know precisely) who or what that something is; we only know that it exists. In the evolution and development of human beings as a species, and as individuals within that species, it seems that we are on an instinctive quest to find, know and relate to that Divine Something.
Since the term "Divine Something" sounds irreverent, we will use the term "Great Spirit" through the rest of this essay. There is little hard evidence on how we as a species pursued that quest in the beginning. We find clues and hints and pictographs and megaliths; but until human consciousness developed to the point of communication, first a consensus on words, and much later the art of transmitting those words in written form, we simply do not know how our ancestors related to the Great Spirit. We can speculate that through this relationship to the Great Spirit, we came to know the Divine in other forms and manifestations, and through those other forms and manifestations were able to relate back to the Great Spirit. In pre-classical Greece we find the concept of Ouranos and Gaia (Sky Father and Earth Mother); in some Native American traditions we find the concept of Grandfather Sky and Grandmother Earth. Yet both infer the existence of the Great Spirit.
Prior to the art of communication, interaction with the Great Spirit was (and largely still is) a purely personal experience. Nevertheless, as we developed the ability to communicate with one another, we tried to relate our Divine experiences to one another through imperfect sciences and flawed theologies. Modern man is not much better at communicating these experiences than our ancient ancestors were. We are still standing at the Athenian altar that was dedicated to the "Unknown God."
So why bother? Simply because in order to fill that existential void that human beings inevitably encounter, we must. The greater our level of consciousness, and the less our need to focus on basic survival, the more profound that void becomes. Each of us as individuals, at some point in our lives, maybe younger, maybe older, maybe from the influence of an external catalyst, will face that void. And we may stand at that abyss many times throughout our lifetimes. To find or restore, and maintain inner peace, it seems, we must be able to know, experience and relate to the Great Spirit on a personal level. For me, that most often occurs when I am alone — alone in a forest in Louisiana, alone in a remote roadside chapel in rural Schwabia, alone standing waist deep in the Persian Gulf, alone walking a stone spiral, or alone in my patrol car. Each of us can find and develop our own personal relationship with the Great Spirit. For then and only then can we find and maintain inner peace. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict or a state of mind — it is a state of the Soul. And a peaceful Soul is a precursor for a peaceful mind. So I will leave you with another Native American moon lodge chant.
May the Great Spirit grant you peace of mind,
May the peace be there in all that you may find,
May the peace be there in all that you leave behind.