Participation is for Barfield a "predominately perceptual relation between observer and observed, between man and nature . . . nearer to unity than dichotomy" (HGH 26). It is an "extra-sensory relation between man and the phenomena" (SA 40) in which mind is not yet detached from its representations. ("This older, embryonic relation [between macrocosm and microcosm] . . . still largely subsists--to strengthen and uphold him--in the instinctive life of man, in sleep and after death, until he is reborn in a physical body" [RCA 237].) "To be intensely aware of participation," Barfield explains in Saving the Appearances, "is, for man, to feel the centre of energy in himself identified with the energy of which external nature is the image" (SA 109).

"Participation died," Barfield shows, "not suddenly but by inches. It survived, for example, in chemistry longer than in the other sciences and, after it vanished altogether, not only from the sciences but from the Collective Representations of the educated, or at least the urbanized part of mankind, its echo continued to survive in their habitual use of language for the purposes of thought. It is indeed only in our own time that we are witnessing its eviction from that final stronghold" (SA 98).1

If "anyone . . . finds it difficult to form any conception of participation, that is, of self and not-self identified in the same moment of experience," it is not because there are no examples ready-to-hand. To understand the reality of participation, Barfield observes, we need only

    reflect on that whole peculiar realm of semi-subjectivity which still leads a precarious existence under the name "instinct"--or on those "irresistible impulses, on which psychiatrists are inclined to dwell. Many of us know what panic feels like, and ordinary men are proud of their sexual vigor or ashamed of the lack of it, although the act is readily acknowledged in retrospect to be at least as much something that is done to, or with, them by an invisible force of nature, as something they themselves veritably do. (SA 32)
See in particular Saving the Appearances, Chaps. IV, V, VI.
1Some enduring reminders of participation which endured even into our own millennium include: medieval art and thought, the four elements theory, the four humours, astrology (RM 18).