“Everything in nature is alive and speaking. Our spiritual practice is about opening our eyes, ears and hearts to hear, understand, and communicate back. The elements, the Ancestors and the spirit beings that surround us want us to communicate with them. They want to work with us to heal the Earth, but they need our invitation.”1 (Starhawk)
ANIMISM UNBOUND You wander far into the wilderness, to where it seems no human being could possibly have gone before. You wait quietly for something to happen. And sure enough, although you cannot pinpoint the source, small bell-like notes rise up in a pure waterfall of sound, like seeds floating in orbits or flower circles chiming in bliss. Surrounded by harmonious bands of singing green and streaming blue, somehow you traverse bogs, meadows and the antlers of branching trees, to find yourself at your cabin door once again.
Deeply personal messages and affinities are all around us, and the appearance and timing of phenomena like a rainbow, the cawing of a raven, patterns etched in sand, or the visitation of a snake can have great individual purpose and meaning. Interpretations can either come easily with an undeniable “knowing,” or become clear over time and distance.
In my own case I have always held an Animist knowing and companionship to wild nature, as I continue to see, feel, sense, observe, know and communicate with other presences out on the land - creatures, beings, elementals, earth spirits, deities, plant allies, and the archetypal animal spirits. These conversations can be one-off, or depending on the place, evolve and strengthen over time, with great care and devotion.
ANIMISM UNBOUND The day you finish a Daniel Quinn book that reinforces the sentience of Earth Community and changes your worldview forever, you leave the house, and just outside the door a magnificent toad is waiting. You long for the day when you are as at home in your environment as this attentive being. You place a blessing of protection on the small creature, which leads to a conversation full of magnetic knowing and mutual love. And from that day onward, you remember Wise Toad as a guardian of life's passages.
The world is alive with purpose, energy and sacred life. The elementals, earth spirits, plant allies, faeries and “devas” can have identifiable characteristics, personalities or gender, and narratives from oral traditions can portray these other-than-human beings as neutral, lovable, exuberant, terrifying or even mischievous!
ANIMISM UNBOUND You find yourself encountering turtles everywhere you go - images and other icons - and you spot them on summer lawns and in the wild. You feel a sense of the miraculous beyond serendipity, and begin to know a closeness to Mother Turtle, who tells you life lessons of the most sacred symbols unfolding, in the deep recesses of both cosmos and Feral Earth. Then one day you encounter a broken turtle beside the highway, psychopomp and sing to her as she crosses over, and are driven to spend the next four years raising exorbitant sums of money for a turtle rescue organization.
If we are open to sharing through our heart, mind, dreaming body and other senses, the stones, trees, plants, animals, birds, insects and sacred creatures with whom we share this wondrous planet have an infinity of healing, guardianship, and learning experiences to offer. By stilling our inner dialogue, focusing on positive intent and emotions, and listening deeply with our ears plus our entire range of senses, we have the ability to initiate conversations with earth spirits and energetic beings. The results can be surprising and awe-inspiring! Some people hear actual speech, for others it is a waking dream, powerful vision or spontaneous experience, while others receive messages through night-time visitations, strong feelings or intuition.
Deeply related and interactive in our mutual admiration, kinship and needs, the cycles and manifestations of growth that occur in self and nature correspond materially and spiritually. The macrocosm and microcosm meeting within ourselves, the divine principle of “as above so below” are also realized. By virtue of being connected to the holism of Earth Community, we become attuned to a vast cosmovision, and all notions of monotheism fall away. Animists evoke, honor and obey a multiplicity of spirits, deities, elements and powers.
The Animist perspective is also apparent in the cosmology of the Haudenosaunee, as “the world around and all its features – rivers, trees, clouds, springs and mountains are regarded as alive, endowed with spirit and sensibility every bit as real as those of humans, and in fact of exactly the same type and quality as a human’s. Among the Iroquois this was called Orenda, the invisible force inherent in all parts of the universe.”6
ANIMISM UNBOUND "Like echoes like" you are thinking, as you pick up a stone marked with lines of red ochre, exactly the same as the ancient petroglyphs you have visited with indigenous friends. Asking permission, the patterned stone willingly joins the other objects in your sacred pouch, that includes a small figure of divine feminine blessing. Weeks later on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico the pouch is lost to human greed and grasping, yet when you return home, the stone marked with red ancestral pigment is on your altar waiting. You accept this magic as willingly as the Petroglyph Stone has accepted you.
In a state of heightened awareness - a space of great joy, freedom and unconditional love - they found that the Devas were thrilled to be noticed by humans, and with ongoing interaction became close companions in cooperative gardening and co-evolution. All forms of life start with energies that are materialized into specific physical form by the overarching soul essences of each being, the “Kingdom of Devas” who hold the archetypal patterns. Feeling and harmonizing one’s self with the soul essence of a plant can evoke a response, such as this communication received from the Flowering Gentian.
"We bring breaths of open spaces and hills, of sunshine, showers, and breezes. All of these are part of your being. Even if you live in the midst of a busy city, these natural things are home to you. They are part of the atmosphere of this Earth, part of the surroundings in which you live and grow. Even if your life and thinking are completely enmeshed in the human world, still you are part of our Deva world, which works for the perfect flowering of all life. This is your birthright. You may turn your back on it, but someday you will learn the truth and live in connection with all life on this planet. Only then will you tap your highest potential.”7
“Nature is alive and talking to us. This is not a metaphor.” (Terence McKenna)
Honoring the life force in creation and knowing that all beings are sacred are the core beliefs of Animism, and it is our collective responsibility to support this interexistence with the highest respect and generosity of spirit. Human beings are just one strand woven into the complex systems of Earth Community! By respecting the Earth as a living entity and acknowledging all forms of consciousness in the natural world, Animism is the worldview that works best for humanity when we take our appropriate place within (not above) the Circle of All Life. Our reawakening to Animism, arising from our collective ancient past, will naturally move us forward to a future of ecocentric ethics and reciprocity with Earth Community.
1. Starhawk, “A Pagan Response to Katrina,” Starhawk’s Tangled Web: Goddess and Pagan Resources, September 14, 2005.
2. Peter Nabokov, Where the Lightning Strikes: The Lives of American Indian Sacred Places, Viking Penguin, 2006
3. Emma Restall Orr, The Wakeful World: Animism, the Mind and the Self in Nature, Moon Books, 2011
4. Willem Larsen, “Becoming Traditional: Animism, Culture, and the Newly Born,” The College of Mythic Cartography, March 6, 2007
5. Theodore Roszak, “The Greening of Psychology: Exploring the Ecological Unconscious,” The Gestalt Journal, Volume 18, Number 1, Spring, 1995
6. Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision, University of Georgia Press, 2000
7. Dorothy MacLean, To Honor the Earth: Reflections on Living in Harmony with Nature, HarperCollins, 1991
RESOURCES ~ ANIMISM
Indigenous Narratives ~ Immediate and Fluid, Lived Experience
The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge Sources of Life – Peggy V. Beck, Anna Lee
Walters and Nia Francisco >link<
Messengers of the Gods: Tribal Elders Reveal the Ancient Wisdom of the
Earth – James Cowan >link<
The Manitous: the Supernatural World of the Ojibway – Basil Johnston >link<
The Seven Dawns of the Aumakua: The Ancestral Spirit Tradition of Hawaii –
Moke Kupihea >link<
The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living – Joseph M. Marshall III
Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future – Melissa
K. Nelson >link<
Western Interpretations ~ Structured, More Complex
Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology - David Abram >link<
Animism: Respecting the Living World - Graham Harvey >link<
Everything You Need to Know About Animism - Sarah Anne Lawless >link<
The Wakeful World : Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature - Emma Restall
Nature Spirits & Elemental Beings - Marko Pogacnik >link<
Talking with Nature, Journeys into Nature: A Michael J. Roads Reader -
Michael J. Roads >link<
Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings – John Seed,
Joanna Macy, Pat Fleming and Arne Naess >link<
Pegi Eyers is the author of Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, an award-winning book that explores strategies for neurodecolonization, social justice, ethnocultural identity, building land-emergent community & resilience in times of massive change.