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Terrapsychology studies the largely unconscious (because widely disregarded) interdependency of human consciousness and culture with the multileveled presence of the living Earth, including that of specific places, creatures, and materials.[1] As a growing field fed by ecopsychology, depth psychology, and several other disciplines, terrapsychology explores how the patterns, shapes, features, and motifs at play in the nonhuman world sculpt ideas, habits, relationships, culture, and sense of self.

Most forms of environmentally focused social science take as given a split between subject and object, interior life and external surroundings. By contrast, terrapsychology studies what new insights and connections surface when these areas of experience are kept together.[2] An example of a terrapsychological question would be as follows: “Given that the San Francisco Bay Area occupies the largest estuary on the West Coast, and that an estuary is an edge place in which diverse species meet, currents of salt and fresh water flow together, and new niches come into being, how is the Bay Area not only an ecological estuary, but a cultural, psychological, and perhaps spiritual estuary as well?”[3]

Terrapsychology looks for connections between self and world, culture and nature, and inner and outer instead of taking them as divided, as most inquiries would.[4] “Whether we know it or not, we speak in the discourse of nature, terrain, and place, their jagged places roughening our turns of phrase, rivers carrying our endeavors onward, skyscrapers tempting us to irresponsible heights, polluted bays polluting our moods, corridors of wildlife preserving our pathways of sanity.” [1] Even geological features possess psychologically potent symbolic value.[5]


The methods of terrapsychology are interpretive (hermeneutic) rather than empirical, although empirical findings can be folded in as living metaphors. For example, by itself the amount of money for which Rancho Rincon del Diablo (“Devil’s Corner”) was sold in the late 1800s means little, but, given the ranch’s name and the rich ghost lore about it, the amount makes a certain metaphoric sense: $666.66.

Terrapsychological work is “deep” in the sense that what links people to places and animals and elements travels along bridges of symbol, metaphor, image, and even dream.[6] Terrapsychological investigation involves uncovering these bridges by learning about the ecology, history, flora, fauna, culture, and infrastructure of particular places, then looking for recurring images and motifs that announce the local “ecological complexes”: knots of experience in which trauma or health of the terrain parallels trauma or health in its inhabitants.[1]

Researchers draw also on personal practices such as monitoring moods and body states while on site, looking to dreams for clues, speaking with locals, observing local artwork, making art, taking photographs, recording videos, and collecting local legends. Interpreting the presence of place, nature, or object is similar to interpreting the symbols of dream and myth. Doing this gives the researcher a holistic sense of a presence or “soul” alive in the place beyond its measurable parts.


After finishing a dissertation on “imagining a psychoanalysis of place,” depth psychologist Craig Chalquist coined “terrapsychology” in 2003 to describe not only his own work with place but that of Laura Mitchell and Matthew Cochran, at that time fellow students at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. Chalquist’s 2007 book ‘’Terrapsychology: Reengaging the Soul of Place’’ introduced the budding field into print. This book was followed by ‘’Deep California’’ (2009) and the anthology ‘’Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled’’ (2010).

Chalquist has since written the Animate California Trilogy (2009-2012) to record his terrapsychological work across every county in California and In the Thick of Things to explore the uncanny aliveness of the personal objects in our lives (2013). A group of his former students meets regularly in the Bay Area to investigate how terrapsychology can inform transformative leadership principles as practiced by women leaders.

Published contributors to the field of terrapsychology also include Sarah Rankin, Janet Rich, Laura Vogel, Katrina Martin, Linda Buzzell, Steph Paidas-Dukarm, George Kohn, Corey Hale, Aviva Joseph, Laura Mitchell, Matthew Cochran, Rebecca Wyse, Pam Greenslate, Kevin Filocamo, Ryan Hurd, Adrian Villasenor-Galarza, Kathryn Quick, Seth Miller, Wendy Sarno, Karen Knowles, Danielle Neuhauser, Karen Jaenke, Rebecca Elliott, Eileen Pardini, and Bonnie Bright.[1] Terrapsychology as a hermeneutic form of deep research has spread to several universities, including Pacifica Graduate Institute, John F. Kennedy University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Cultural and intellectual ancestry[edit]

Terrapsychology’s heritage reaches far back time and finds its roots in many cultures and disciplines. Examples include:

  • The observation that we sometimes experience as enspirited and reactive the places where we live and work, the patterns of animal behavior within them, contrary weather, and even personal possessions that vanish and reappear as they please is nothing new. All pre-industrial peoples believed in spirits of nature and terrain. Many indigenous cultures continue to experience the world as the living abode of sacred beings. Even contemporary Westerners notice when one place (e.g., a city) seems determined to eject its visitor and another feels unaccountably welcoming. Places and things participate in interactive fields larger than human projection of "inner" states.
  • Plato wrote evocatively about the Anima_mundi, the World Soul animating the cosmos. Anima Mundi is a Platonic counterpart to the ancient figure of Sophia, divine personification of creative Wisdom.
  • Aristotle thought of matter and even the universe itself as a vast unfolding from potentiality to actuality.
  • The Greeks and Romans of old spoke of each stream, grove, forest, mountain, and city as inhabited by its resident spirit, its genius loci. Every pre-industrial culture knows similar figures. A handful of examples from Europe include the Yarthings and Hyter Sprites out of Anglo Saxon folklore, the Doire well guardians of Celtic mythology, and the following pairings: dryads with trees, naiads with springs, oreads with hills and rocks, nereids, mermaids, sirens, and oceanids with the sea, and trolls and gnomes with caves and underground caverns.
  • The alchemists alchemists who strove to transmute base metals like lead into silver and gold believed in enspirited matter.[7] A number of scholars are moving away from the idea of alchemy as projected psychology to alchemy as a conversation with the animate world.[8]
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used an observational science akin to what would eventually be called “phenomenology" to participate deeply in an imagistic flow of becoming in the plants he studied.
  • The school of Naturphilosophie burgeoned with German Romanticism, Idealism, and the philosophical musings of Friedrich von Schelling mixed with those of Georg Hegel. One of its goals was the reweaving of natural-world roots in human thought and aspiration. Schelling in particular intuited what he saw as comparisons between the evolution of human thought and nature’s continuing creativity. For him, the natural and the spiritual were different ways of observing the same unitary process ultimately inaccessible to reduction as an object of intellectual knowledge.
  • Jesuit scientist and scholar Teilhard de Chardin proposed a “within” of things, arguing that everything--a hillside, a stone, a piece of paper--has an objective face and a subjective face, an outer side and an inner. [9] The more complex the nervous system it possesses, the more conscious the subjectivity or interiority can be of itself. This concept philosophically subverts both the mind-body “problem” and the elusive threshold between the living and the non-living, which for him was not an either-or but a matter of degree. A cat exhibits a more complex inner life than a rock, but both possess one as a property inherent in every type of matter.
  • In some sects of Buddhism, things considered in the West to be inanimate, such as minerals, are seen as endowed with a living “Buddha nature.” This teaching has worked its way into the field of deep ecology and its goal of Self-realization.
  • Shinto offers imagistically elaborate descriptions of local kami (gods).
  • In Western philosophy the tradition of panpsychism, for which organizations of matter display what we would now call complex systemic properties, has received the more recent name of “panexperientialism.” Panpsychism has also been known as pansensionism and hylozoism. Such a perspective is neither vitalism (identified by Alfred_North_Whitehead as a kind of dualism) nor anthropomorphism.
  • Other major and minor philosophical thinkers convinced of the mindfulness of nature include Pythagoras (according to Cicero), Heraclitus (according to Diogenes Laertius), Thales, Empedocles, Epicurus, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Anaxagoras, Plato, Plotinus, Numenius of Apamea, Ammonius Saccas, Posidonius, Paracelsus, Gottfried Leibniz, Baruch Spinoza, Wolfgang Goethe, Giloramo Cardeno, Bernardino Telesio, Francesco Patrizi, Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, Tommaso Campanella, William Gilbert, Julien LaMettrie, Denis Diderot, Johann Herder, Arthur Schopenhauer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Friedrich Schelling, Henry More, Margaret Cavendish, William James, Charles Peirce, John Dewey, Eugene Wigner, D'arcy Thompson, Paul Carus, Manfred Eigen, G. Spencer-Brown, Friedrich Paulson, Ernst Haeckel, Eduard von Hartmann, William Clifford, Rudolf Lotze, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Samuel Butler, Morton Prince, Charles Strong, Ferdinand Schiller, Samuel Alexander, Peter Ouspensky, Leonard Troland, Archibald Wheeler, Durant Drake, Wilhelm Reich, Owen Barfield, Alfred North Whitehead, William Montague, and, more recently, Rupert Sheldrake, Charles Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, Christian de Quincey, Freya Mathews, Galen Strawson, David Abram, Charles Globus, Baird Callicott, J. McDaniel, Tim Sprigge, Susan Armstrong-Buck, J. O’Brien, Stephanie Lahar, Manuel de Landa, Val Plumwood, Stephanie Kaza, Karen Barad, Brian Massumi, and David Skrbina.
  • Thinkers whose work speculates about panpsychism--or at least about nonhuman nature as vitally actant beyond mere mechanicality--include Lucretius, Democritus, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Nietzsche, Kant, Thoreau, Josiah Royce, Alexey Koslov, Henri Bergson, Hans Driesch, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, Gregory Bateson, Arthur Koestler, Roderick Nash, Herbert Feigl, Giles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, W. J. T. Mitchell, and Jane Bennett.
  • The depth psychology tradition rooted in these ancient philosophies and inaugurated by Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, and C. G. Jung and further extended by James Hillman, Mary Watkins, and Robert Sardello imagines consciousness as situated upon a primary process or substrate of fantasy, image, and myth that informs every realm of human experience (e.g., the computer as a return of the mythic figure of the robotic Golem).[10]
  • Throughout his seminars, letters, and Collected Works, CG_Jung wrote about mind and matter as two aspects of one primary reality. Terrapsychology shares this idea even while departing from Jung’s insistence on trying archetype to human instinct. For terrapsychology, archetypes move all around us as well as within us: the spirals of galaxies and whirlpools, the nets of veins and rivers, and many other basic patterns upon which the cosmos builds its complexity.[11]
  • Ecopsychology, which sees human psychology as intimately linked to planetary health, initiated conjectures about the “ecological unconscious” and suggestions for exploring it. [12]
  • Scientists who take the idea of animate matter seriously include astronomer Johannes Kepler, mathematician and theorist Sir Isaac Newton, biologist Pierre-Louis Maupertuis, Vladimir Vernadsky (founder of geochemistry), Joseph Priestley (discoverer of oxygen), William Herschel (discoverer of Uranus), Nicolas Copernicus, Ernst Mach (magnetism), Emil du Bois-Reymond (nerve conduction), inventor Thomas Edison, astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, evolutionary biologist Sir Julian Huxley, biologist J.B.S. Haldane, physicist Sir James Jeans, physiologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, biologist W.E. Agar, systems biologist C.H. Waddington, physicist A. Cochran, physicist and Nobel winner Wolfgang Pauli, physicist Freeman Dyson, anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, physicist David Bohm, and geographers Derek McCormack and Alan Latham. [13]
  • Naming the self-redesign of living systems autopoesis, Maturana and Varela chart cognition all the way down to the most primitive sensorimotor interactions with an environment. Sewall Wright, one of the geneticists who combined biology and evolutionary theory into a “modern synthesis,” theorized that consciousness was inherent in matter; his colleague Bernhard Rensch, an evolutionary biologist, agreed that atoms and subatomic particles exhibit proto-psychic qualities (how else to explain where higher expressions like self-awareness come from?). According to biologist Martin Heisenberg, even fruit flies, bacteria, and molds exhibit behavioral output independent of sensory input, indicating self-direction and self-initiated behavior. In fact, bacteria resistant to antibiotics sacrifice themselves by producing indole, a chemical that supports the weaker members of the bacterial group.[13]

Four key premises[edit]

Terrapsychological work—whether writing, research, poetry, art, wisdom practice or some other way into the animate field—grounds itself in four crucial observations:

  • Facts of environment translate into motifs operative within the human mind and body. Depth psychology has demonstrated that from the perspective of unconscious psychic life, everything around us shimmers as potential symbol. Your home has a front door, and one fine day it flies open and can’t be shut. What in your life can’t be kept outside any longer? What if we interpreted “outer” facts and events like images in our dreams? Metals would then be metalphors, landscapes inscapes, crowded parking lots holding up our drive, meandering tributaries tributarrying through our moods.
  • Movements of mind and body parallel movements of nature, surround, and place. Those moods and our dramas, symptoms, conflicts, and troubles often, perhaps always, reflect those going on all around us: bulging waistlines and urban sprawl, congested conversations and congested freeways, spiritual epiphanies and sacred sites. Not only do we harbor within us the same earthly patterns that twist and curve around us, we think, feel, live, and die by them as well.
  • Ignoring these connections between self and world pathologizes them and us. Although we now possess piles of research evidence that chronic disconnection from the natural world makes us physically, socially, and psychologically ill, we are only beginning to explore even subtler disturbances resulting from what we ignore around us. Broken cities and barren rainforests wreak havoc, we believe, in our depths, diminishing us below and beyond the range of measurable illness as interiorized droughts and deserts encroach upon what remains of human sanity. [14]
  • Working consciously with deep connections between self and world heals the split driving environmental crisis and collective self-alienation and invites new delight in the complexity of our ties to nature, place, creatures, and things. So much of the modernist complaining about the separateness, randomness, and “thrownness” of life simply vanishes when we realize how deeply we belong to this lively world and to the cosmos glittering all around it.[2]


The goals of a terrapsychological approach to understanding self-world relations include the following:

  • To learn how what appear in the psychological field as nonhuman subjectivities--geographical locales, their compositional elements, their plants and animals--address us in synchronization with how we behave toward them, with place as an orienting context.
  • To add the dimension of depth to environmental and ecological studies by perceiving features of the terrain, as much as can be done, from the inside, in terms (to put it poetically) of how they seem to themselves.
  • To explore the inner/symbolic meaning of the worldwide indigenous certainty that places are animated by living forces. There is no such thing as “nonliving” in such a framework.
  • To make these forces visible, particularly when they resurface in human psychological life, cultural activity, bodily states, and unconscious repetitions of local historical events.
  • To demonstrate the unbreakable interdependency between psychological health, social justice, and ecological well-being.
  • To challenge healing modalities like psychotherapy to return to the indigenous sensibility that possibilities for health and illness are not separate from where they are seen.
  • To make more apparent and less confining the unconscious identity that binds us to environmental forces and features, and thereby enlarge both our sense of identity and our feeling of partnership with the nonhuman.
  • To foster rigorous and systematic research that puts people back into the world psychologically.
  • To create ideas and practices which encourage ‘’heartsteading:’’ dwelling deeply in places through knowledge and love that strengthen over time in continual interactions between the human and the nonhuman.[15]

Research examples[edit]

The following research questions come from past and present graduate-level projects—master’s and doctoral—that draw upon Terrapsychological Inquiry, the research methodology of terrapsychology:[1]

  • What is revealed about the lingering effects of colonization, that so many of its strongholds—mission outposts, presidios—are also sites of ecological devastation?
  • What makes sacred sites sacred, healing, and transformative to those who visit?
  • What are the primary recurring mythological motifs in towns like Petaluma, California?
  • What does it mean that so many drug addicts congregate around ecologically wounded bends in the Santa Cruz River in California?
  • How does “queerspace,” CK Olivieri's term for the urban sites where LGBTQI people create community, reflect the ecological and historical presence of such sites?
  • What does the Great Salt Lake have in common with both the Mormons who colonized the region and the offshoot alternative religious practices now springing up there?
  • How do patterns of violence in Jerusalem reflect ancient historical and geological splits within and below the city?
  • How does the Colony Collapse Disorder now ravaging honeybee populations reflect an underlying Colonization Collapse Disorder among industry-driven human societies?
  • How might dreams occurring in relation to specific sacred locations help reconstitute the ceremonial practices of a decimated Native American tribe?

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e C. Chalquist, ed. ‘’Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled.’’ World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2010
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b C Chalquist. ‘’Terrapsychology: Reengaging the Soul of Place.’’ Spring Journal Books, New Orleans, La, 2007
  3. Jump up ^ C. Chalquist. "Tracking Psyche in the City" in Ecopsychology 4(3), Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Publishers, New York, 2012.
  4. Jump up ^ J. Coppin and E. Nelson, eds. The Art of Inquiry. New Orleans, La: Spring Journal Books, 2005.
  5. Jump up ^ M. Cochran. ”The Eros of Erosion: The Shaping of an Archetypal Geology" in ‘’The Experience of Nature: Phenomenologies of the Earth.’’ SUNY, NY, 2014
  6. Jump up ^ B. Perluss. ”Touching Earth Finding Spirit: A Passage into the Symbolic Landscape" in ‘’Spring Journal vol. 76.’’ New Orleans, La, 2006
  7. Jump up ^ M. Von Franz. Alchemical Active Imagination. Shambhala, New York, 1997
  8. Jump up ^ R. Bosnak, "Sulfur Dreaming" in Spring Journal vol. 74, New Orleans, La 2006.
  9. Jump up ^ P. Teilhard de Chardin. ‘’The Phenomenon of Man.’’ Harper Perennial, 1976
  10. Jump up ^ J. Hillman. Re-Visioning Psychology. Harper & Row, New York, 1975
  11. Jump up ^ M. Conforti. Field, Form, and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature, & Psyche. Spring Journal Books, New Orleans, La, 2003
  12. Jump up ^ T. Roszak, M. Gomes, & A. Kanner, eds. ‘’Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.’’ Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, CA, 1995
  13. ^ Jump up to: a b Earthrise: Beacon of a New Worldview"[1]
  14. Jump up ^ L. Mitchell. ”Earthmind: Deschooling Education" in ‘’The Experience of Nature: Phenomenologies of the Earth.’’ SUNY, NY, 2014
  15. Jump up ^ "Heartsteading: Forming and Strengthening Circles of Ecocommunity" [2]

Further reading[edit]

L. Buzzell and C. Chalquist, eds. ‘’Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind.’’ Sierra Club Books, 2009.

D. Abram, ‘’Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.’’ Random House, NY, 2010.

B. Bright, "Between Honey and Pain: Colony Collapse Disorder and the Colonization of the Wild," in Rebearths: Conversations with a World Ensouled." World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2010.

C. Chalquist. ‘’Edges, Peaks, and Vales: A Mythocartography of California at the Margins.’’ Vol. 3 of the Animate California Trilogy. World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2012.

C. Chalquist. ‘’In the Thick of Things: Brief Musings on Living in an Animate World.’’ World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2013.

C. Chalquist. ‘’The Tears of Llorona: A Californian Odyssey of Place, Myth, and Homecoming.’’ Vol. 1 of the Animate California Trilogy. World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2009.

C. Chalquist. ‘’Ventral Depths: Alchemical Themes and Mythic Motifs of the Great Central Valley of California.’’ Vol 2. of the Animate California Trilogy. World Soul Books, Walnut Creek, CA, 2011.

M. Cochran. ”The Eros of Erosion: The Shaping of an Archetypal Geology" in ‘’The Experience of Nature: Phenomenologies of the Earth.’’ SUNY, NY, 2014.

L. Mitchell. ”Earthmind: Deschooling Education" in ‘’The Experience of Nature: Phenomenologies of the Earth.’’ SUNY, NY, 2014.

External links[edit]