[originally published A Sense of Place, 04/18/13 and in Godless Paganism]
I rarely speak publicly about my spiritual practice. This is mainly due to the intimate nature of relationship. You see, my worldview is animistic, and for me, this means I view the universe as a community of living persons, of which humans are a part. I perceive everything within the universe, including the Universe herself, as possessing unique worldview, culture, and language (method of communication), e.g., the Ash tree near my front door is a living person, who possesses a worldview, culture, and language distinct from my own. Because I live within such a vital world, I try my best to “live respectfully as a member of the diverse community of living persons (Graham Harvey).”
How animism informs my spirituality
All living persons have an agenda. We also all have an impact on others, for good or for ill: no man is an island. Without trying, my footsteps have a profound affect on ant-persons, grass-persons, worm-persons, and so on. This also applies to persons larger, and smaller (hello, bacteria and microbes), than myself, such as the various Oceans, Moon, Sun, other Stars, Dark Matter, and the countless other persons residing in the cosmos. By simply living their lives, and expressing their unique culture and worldview, they impact me – sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Red, in tooth and claw.
The cacophony of life, and chaos of existence, that emerges experientially with this view, is not something I am afraid of, or seek to propitiate (though, hearing it does overload my system); rather, I am curious. I want to understand the boundless universe I live within. I do not worship other persons. I do not engage in adoration of, or devotion to, other persons. I do have relationships, both with human and other-than-human persons, and I nurture and cherish those connections.
How I ‘do’ animism
I also practice witchcraft, which I am equally discrete about, owing to the tradition’s focus on silence. My affinity for The Craft is due, in large part, to its long history of shamanic practice and my own extrasensory leanings – that, and my Grandma teaching me so much folklore!
For me, there is no distinction between ‘spirit’ world and ‘material’ world – they are of a kind. Therefore, there is no mundane experience. Yes, there are other-persons living in the universe who are so alien, so different from myself that encountering them feels like I have stepped into another realm, but they are still part of my everyday world – the one I wake-up in, the one where I live my work-a-day life.
Since I am a witch who views everything she sees (and doesn’t see) as sentient and existing within a cosmos of living persons, relationship is vital. In community, whether familial or something broader, relationship building is foundational – it’s how we get our needs met, and is psychologically nourishing. In my working life, relationship building is a primary focus. Again, it’s how I get my needs met. It’s also how we organically interact with friends, family, and acquaintances: we build relationships. I am interested in building relationship with the persons, both human and other-than-human, I interact with daily. We may not be best friends, but, hopefully, we can foster a mutually satisfying connection. It’s also simple good manners. Like I learned from my human neighbors here in Ireland, the first thing to be done is invite a new-comer over for tea, and then greet each other whenever you meet.
A day in the life of an animist
I’m fortunate. My current life circumstance affords me the opportunity to live away from alarm clocks and deadlines. I wake with the sun, and the first thing I do upon waking is notice the quality of the light, and how it feels. Light is different in Ireland, and special – so special the indigenous inhabitants exerted great effort constructing monuments that enabled them sensual interaction with the Sun (Brú na Bóinne). The low angle with which the sun’s electromagnetic waves enter the atmosphere produces a dramatic effect indicative of the earth’s tilt (the season) – the morning light at Lughnasadh is vastly different from the light of a winter morning. By paying attention to the light, my body communes with the Sun and my day begins with intimacy. The Sun, as a Great Power, is someone I want to develop relationship with. By attending to the presence of the Sun, and actively communing, I forge connection.
The very next thing I attend to is the birdsong. Many different voices are heard here in east Cork, and the timing of their song tells me a lot: Raven sits in the Pine and talks in her low voices only in summer, Robin chatters early in spring, and blackbird talks to us late in autumn. I may not live here long enough to understand their patterns, but I have noticed. So, I greet the birds, both vocally and extrasensorially, in order to build relationship with them – my neighbors. Think about how isolating and cold the lack of acknowledgment and greeting feels when sitting on the metro, or the bus. I certainly don’t want that atmosphere cultivated around my home.
Once I’m up, and dressed, I wash-up any dishes from the night before. My house, made from the same star dust I am, is alive, too. By tending to the orderliness and cleanliness of it, I show respect and affection, thus building relationship. Do I imagine my house has an unseen ‘soul’ or incorporeal entity residing within its ‘body?’ No. I’m not a fan of the soul / body divide. I perceive consciousness as inhabiting all of the universe. How that Mind moves through and within all things is a Great Mystery.
The act of relationship building, with and within my environment, influences my sense of a dynamic Place – one which includes my physical location and my role within it. I hope this gives you a sense of my cosmogony, and what animism means to me.
For those interested in Early Irish Charms and Magic, I recently attended a symposium at National University of Ireland Maynooth and am posting my notes on my personal blog: Confessions of a Hedge Witch.