A Michigan Animism – A Shinto Framework

“Shinto seeks to cultivate and ensure a harmonious relationship between humans and the kami and thus with the natural world.” – Wikipedia

Hello again folks!

If you are like me, a white American and an inheritor of a history of colonialism; you know the cultural struggle that many of us face. The feeling that we are constantly stuck between a rock and a hard place – not being indigenous to this continent, and also being the descendent of Old World cultures that many of us no longer have little if any direct connection to. I don’t share the cultures of most of my ancestors, I don’t speak their languages either. I’m also not indigenous, and certainly don’t share those cultures.

So what are we to do, those of us that are adrift like pieces of wonderbread? White, and without any claimable substance? For me, the answer has been continuing to develop, create, and recreate a kind of local/bioregional spirituality. It is a syncretic mix, just like my home state of Michigan. I look to the cultures of my ancestors, the native cultures, and see what inspires me. I also spend a lot of time outdoors, with the lakes and forests of my homeland looking for local spirits of rocks, plants, animals and whatever else I happen to stumble across. Michigan is a place of many peoples, from indigenous Anishinaabe, to the Germans and Finns that made this place their home. That cultural cross section, which includes many of my ancestors, and the rich diversity of other-than-human spirits in this land is more than enough to keep me busy. It also lead to a much bigger project (or series of interrelated projects).

That project would be this one; shaping a Michigan animism for myself, as well as sharing it here. Or at least, sharing the public parts. There is a lot of behind the scenes private work that won’t ever be posted here. In other words, lacking any real cultural ‘traditions’ for my spirituality, I’ve set to work shaping my own. But, as you can guess, this is a massive undertaking. Bigger than any one person really. Still, you have to start somewhere. So where to begin?

As mentioned, I look a lot to the cultures of the people of Michigan, which often intersects with my own Germanic/Norse/Celtic/Finnish/Complicated ancestral history. This is is addition to the Native peoples that have lived in this land for generations, and also animism as a general worldview. In fact, much of how I define animism comes from Irving Hallowell’s work among the Ojibwe, a local indigenous people. Yet, I don’t claim these cultures as my own, and also want to do my best to avoid appropriating living cultures outright. So, that kind of inspired syncretism is one part of this project. The other is what I will be looking at today. How Shinto can act as a rough ‘model’ for the kind of animism I’m creating for myself. Today (and after a long winded introduction), I want to look at the aspects of Shinto that grok with how I understand animism, and how Shinto might inform a ‘Michigan Animism’ as a kind of conceptual framework.

I’ll be drawing from Wikipedia article on Shinto for this discussion, because the scope of this is immense and I’m hoping to keep this brief. So, we start basically with;

“Shinto (Japanese: 神道, romanized: Shintō) or Shintoism, is a religion that originated in Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan’s indigenous religion and as a nature religion.. Shinto has no central authority in control and much diversity exists among practitioners.”

Right off the bat we have a kind of nature religion. I think that is a great start for any kind of Michigan animism. It should be based in nature, and that nature of Michigan. In addition, many forms of animism and modern paganisms also are often considered nature religions, so we have some important overlap. Another important note is the lack of central authority, and an inherent diversity. It means a lot of different people can approach this in different ways, and there is no ‘one true way’. Shinto is often translated as the “way of the kami”, and is treated as a worldview more than a specific set of religious doctirines. That works a lot with animism being a worldview, a ‘way’.

“Shinto is polytheistic and revolves around the kami, supernatural entities believed to inhabit all things. The link between the kami and the natural world has led to Shinto being considered animistic. The kami are worshiped at kamidana household shrines, family shrines, and jinja public shrines. The latter are staffed by priests, known as kannushi, who oversee offerings of food and drink to the specific kami enshrined at that location. This is done to cultivate harmony between humans and kami and to solicit the latter’s blessing. Other common rituals include the kagura dances, rites of passage, and seasonal festivals.”

Okay, so kami is one of those things that doesn’t translate well into English and can easily be both/neither god/spirit. I will be using spirit as a general term. The important components here is that we have spirits, shrines, and spiritual specialists in this mix. In addition, there is a host of private, family, and public aspects. The idea is to cultivate harmony with nature through a variety of cermonies, festivals, and other rituals. In my past posts on naturalism, animism, pantheism and polytheism I think all these aspects could find a nice home in a Michigan animism, and all all deeply interconnected in my own practice, and in Shinto.

“In Japanese, it is often said that there are eight million kami, a term which connotes an infinite number, and Shinto practitioners believe that they are present everywhere. They are not regarded as omnipotent, omniscient, or necessarily immortal.”

Here we have little bits of spiritual philosophy, and theology. The idea of ‘8 million kami’ is one that deeply appeals to me, because I understand the spiritual world as immanent; that is the divine/spirit is manifested as the natural world. Michigan is home to tens of thousands of native species, and countless individuals within each species. As well as just shy of ten million humans, and all our own cultural diversity. This is a good way to describe animism in a diverse and pluralistic way, and treating the spirits as ‘everywhere’ is a good way to frame immanence. In addition, treating these beings as not all knowing, all powerful, or immortal (but certainly there are some that are very long lived); is a good basis for a dynamic and ever changing animism that reflects the natural world.

“The term kami is “conceptually fluid”, and “vague and imprecise”. In Japanese it is often applied to the power of phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder and awe in the beholder. Kitagawa referred to this as “the kami nature”, stating that he thought it “somewhat analogous” to the Western ideas of the numinous and the sacred. Kami are seen to inhabit both the living and the dead, organic and inorganic matter, and natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and plagues; their presence is seen in natural forces such as the wind, rain, fire, and sunshine. Accordingly, Nelson commented that Shinto regards “the actual phenomena of the world itself” as being “divine”. The Shinto understanding of kami has also been characterized as being animistic.”

This is why I general use ‘spirit’, as it is vague and imprecise. We have a habit in Western thought of wanting everything clearly defined and put in neat little boxes; This is X and that is Y. Nature is often vastly more complex, dynamic, and chaotic than that. The ‘power of phenomena’ is exactly how I understand the concepts of spirits. As I have spent a fair bit of time talking about ‘the sacred’ in previous posts, this part also fits well. Being able to see kami and spirits as inhabiting all of nature, both as beautiful trees as well as floods, is a great fit for the animism I am trying to shape for myself. “The phenomena of the world itself being divine’ is quite like how I view Spirit in a naturalistic, animistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic way.

“Kami are not deemed metaphysically different from humanity, with it being possible for humans to become kami. Dead humans are sometimes venerated as kami, being regarded as protector or ancestral figures. One of the most prominent examples is that of the Emperor Ōjin, who on his death was enshrined as the kami Hachiman, believed to be a protector of Japan and a kami of war. In Japanese culture, ancestors can be viewed as a form of kami.”

This basic idea is also present in Germanic, Norse, and Finnish forms of animism. In fact in Finnish, there is a deep connection and overlap between the spirits of the dead ancestors, and spirits of the earth. We can become the dead, and the spirits of the earth. Our spirits move through the cycles of life and death like the water and minerals in our bodies. The forest floor is the remains of the dead, and this nourishes the living. This is another good concept for a Michigan animism.

“Although some kami are venerated only in a single location, others have shrines devoted to them across many areas of Japan. Hachiman for instance has around 25,000 shrines dedicated to him.”

This speaks to the shrines aspect we touched upon earlier. I could easily imagine a kind of Michigan animism that has local spirits honored at single places, as well as multiple places. Maybe a particular rock formation in the UP has a single shrine associated with it. Whereas our long rivers and Great Lakes would have multiple shrines in many different places, owing to the massive influence these spirits have on our lives. These are Michigan spirits, that could easily take on the ‘pan-regional’ aspects that you see in Old World cultures like Thor for example.

“A key theme in Shinto is the avoidance of kegare (“pollution” or “impurity”), while ensuring harae (“purity”). In Japanese thought, humans are seen as fundamentally pure. Kegare is therefore seen as being a temporary condition that can be corrected through achieving harae. Rites of purification are conducted so as to restore an individual to “spiritual” health and render them useful to society.”

I find it interesting that humans are fundamentally ‘pure’ in Shinto. We are not a fallen species, we are not born with sin. As such, ‘impurity’ is a temporary thing, and I am understanding as the idea of ‘right relationship’ found in pagan and animistic thoughts. We are not inherently ‘a plague upon the earth’, more so we have created systems (economic and so forth) that cause harm to the earth. Our relationships with nature are what need work, so a Michigan animism could have ceremonies and rituals that reconnect us with nature and heal our relationship to it.

“In the 21st century, Shinto has increasingly been portrayed as a nature-centered spirituality with environmentalist credentials. Shinto shrines have increasingly emphasized the preservation of the forests surrounding many of them, and several shrines have collaborated with local environmentalist campaigns.”

^^^^ THIS. I think if we are going to create a Michigan animism, then environmentalism should be at the heart of that. Michigan has a long history of colonialization and the destruction of our forests as a result. A Michigan Animism as a nature religion, would easily intersect with environmental protection, truly sustainable living, and supporting the well being of human and non-human species. If a Michigan based animism could cultivate the love of the nature, but also the need to protect and preserve nature for future generations, then I would think that a wonderful thing.

Closing thoughts;

The amount of work here is immense, as I have already mentioned. It will be a big project that I will continue to work on. There will be more forthcoming work on this blog that builds on this foundation, and more work behind the scenes. For future posts I will be exploring local natural areas, talking about them and taking pictures. This will be an exploration of natural, local spirits.

Shinto has a deep interconnection with the society, politics, and values of the Japanese people. As such, a Michigan animism would also have these aspects. I will also be exploring this more deeply, especially when it comes to human society; things like politics and economics of Michigan, and how my understanding of animism influences these things. Especially when it comes to environmentalism and sustainability, I don’t think a Michigan animism can be ahistorical or apolitical in that regard.

There is plenty of work ahead, and so here is a briefest summary of how I think Shinto ideas could translate into a Michigan style animism.

A non-exhaustive list of ideas for a Michigan based animism

  • Animistic/Polytheistic nature religion
  • Great Lakes/Local cultus/bioregional
  • Based around nature spirits/natural places
  • Spiritual specialists
  • private/family/community/ancestral/public shrines (built around nature/natural sanctuaries)
  • Basic value of nature conservation/preservation/reverence
  • Diverse/pluralistic/multicultural/multispecies
  • local/regional/variation
  • Spirits of the dead and ancestral veneration
  • Ceremonies and rituals for ‘right relationship’/natural reverence

As always, thanks for reading!

Source/Reference;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto


Michigan Politics & Animism – A Primer

Hello again folks,

This piece is something I have been working on for some time, and have been reluctant to publish. Mostly due to the subject matter – politics – and a topic that gets under a lot of people’s skin. Some don’t think “religion and politics” are topics that should discussed at all. Others think our spiritualities should be ‘apolitical’, as if our actions and values don’t impact the real world or how we judge specific policy.

On one hand, yeah, I agree with the idea of ‘separation of church and state’; in that I don’t think religion should be a foundation of government, and I generally agree with the idea of secular governments. That being said, as a complicated individual, my spirituality deeply influences my politics, and what I think makes for good policy. Politics is in many ways an expression of values and ethics. In addition, those ethics and values have feedback loops through my spiritual practice, as well as my ideas on policy and governance.

I’m an animist and I’ve made no secret of that. I think that the world is full of persons, many of them are not human, and that life is lived in relations with others. Implied by that, is the value for all life; and doing what we can to promote the wellbeing of the environment as well as ourselves. From that worldview comes a whole host of ideas on policy and governance; and that is something I want to talk about in this space. The two are not separate in my mind; and ‘how we live’ and ‘what makes a well being’ are huge questions that intersect both politics and spirituality.

As I’ve mentioned before, this writing is all part of a bigger project; or a deeply intertwined set of projects. I don’t think is is possible to disentangle my spiritual beliefs from my political ones, and so to talk about one, I feel I must talk about the other. Thusly, I will be posting about spirits and natural places, as well as politics going forward.

With that in mind, I also want to state that I will be focusing primarily on Michigan politics. This is the state I live in, and for as it is said, all politics is local. My spirituality is based on local and natural spirits to this area, and my politics is mostly local as well. The local and state level is where I practice, and the place I can have the most influence. Home is where the heart is.

All of which begs for a general outline of this project. First, I will still be talking about the places I visit, as the heart of the project is “What would a Michigan animism look like?”. The complimentary question to that, and the heart of this series, is; “How does a Michigan animism inform how we live?” The second question has many implications, many of which are policy based. Political in nature, in other words.

I’ve talked about this before, but I want to state some things clearly about where I stand, and where I am coming from for this series. First, I’m a dyed in the wool leftist. Broadly, my fellow Americans don’t have a great understanding what this means. Much of that is because our system is painfully bipolar, and both major parties are rightwing parties. Let me illustrate with a comparative example from the European Union Parliament.

An image I made up for the 2020 US Presidential Election, mapped onto the makeup of the EU Parliament at the time.

Under US political terms, I’m an independent. I don’t owe loyalty to the DNC or the RNC, and most of my policy ideas stand to the left of even most Democrats. ‘Left of center’, from the yellow section left on the image above.* I do mostly vote for Democrats, mostly because there is no real other choice in the US. In the EU, I’d vote between green (Green Party) and dark red (European Left). In the US, we don’t have that option. (Probably to be covered in future posts).

To add a little more nuance, I would call myself a democratic ecosocialist in broad terms. First, I believe for as messy as it is, democracy is a good form of governance. By the people, for the people. So don’t come at me with that ‘ahhh USSR commie, CHINA!’ crap. I think many European countries and the Nordic models are in a better place than we are, and good starting places.

As to the ecosocialist part, we’ve already established how big into environmentalism I am. I like a lot of aspects of the US Green Party platform, and I’ll talk about that more in future posts. I think the wellbeing of nature matters a great deal, and climate change is a crisis. We are part of nature after all.

And yes, I’m also a socialist. I think capitalism** is killing our world, and I think people (human and other-than) should be prioritized over profit. I think if more of our economic system was owned and operated by the people (worker coops, unions, economic and worker democracy), and we had more European style social safety systems, we would all be a lot better off for it.

There is a lot of ground to cover there for sure, and I’ll make more a list in a future post. To bring this back around; I think Michigan in particular could easily follow the examples of Finland and Sweden*** in terms of policy as a starting place. I will also explore elements from the US Green Party (an actual leftist party) and the Democratic Socialists of America (also leftist, though not strictly a ‘party’) for other policy ideas, as well as other sources.

In short other words, if Michigan followed the Nordic (and general-ish European) model, what would that look like? If we applied the values and ethics of animism (the well being of humans and environment) to Michigan politics, what would that look like?

If you’ve made it this far..

As always,

Thanks for reading.

Notes;

*There are elements of leftist thought within the Democratic Party of course. People like AOC, Sanders, Warren and others for example. Just the bulk of the party; Clintons, Bidens, Manchins are predominantly right wing in their views.

** I’m using Wikipedia definitions for these.
Capitalism: An economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.

Socialism: An economic philosophy based on the social ownership (worker, community, municipal public, cooperative, government, etc) of the means of production

***. Finland is a great ‘half size’ model for Michigan. Their economy and political system is very comparable, with a population about half Michigan’s size. Sweden is very comparable on many measures including population. (I also think the US would be better off with an EU style of governance, but I digress.)


A Michigan Animism – Haehnle Sanctuary

Hello again folks!

Still busy. Still working away on things, and still having new things pop out of the woodwork. There is a saying, that you find your next book when writing your current one. Maybe that’s what some of my recent blogs represent; small pieces of a bigger project, of another book. In addition, I have recently taken land based spirituality classes, and am I’m also currently taking classwork for the Michigan Master Naturalist certification, and that learning is feeding back into my spiritual work, like so many things do.

More than anything, that’s where I want to start today. This post is part of an ongoing project of mine (or maybe a series of interrelated projects), and is really just me meditating on the aspects of that project. While I have no idea what the future of greater pagandom holds, but I have long wondered, what a kind of ‘Michigan Animism’ would look like? How would it come about, what would go into it, what would it take to make that kind of thing a reality? A kind of “home grown” spiritual path, maybe meant for something larger than just one person?

I’ve teased around these ideas before, and even tried to take a few stabs at it. I’m not sure I was on the right track, and I’m still not sure I am. Still, I wanted to explore this a bit more to maybe lay down some groundwork on a what a Michigan Animism could look like. This is a bit of a thought experiment, as well as work in progress, so please keep that in mind.

Local Spirits, Local Places

As I constantly struggle in the liminal place between neocolonialism and concerns about cultural appropriation, I have found most of my work recently has been focused on natural spirits and what are commonly called ‘spirits of place’. I seek out these spirits in nature, and try and ‘talk’ with them, and sometimes even give them names. These spirits for me are deeply connected with the land and the waters of my home state. I’ve written about this before, and take a lot of inspiration from cultures like the Finnish, the Norse, and even things like Shinto. I’ll talk about that more in coming posts.

There is a lot of interconnection for me between the ideas of ecology and animism, and so I find a lot of overlap between my spirituality and things like nature preserves and wildlife sanctuaries. That’s where I want to start today, as an example.

Place of Birds

I recently visited the Haehnle Sanctuary with my wife, and this was a wonderful place to start this project. As a brief introduction from the website, the sanctuary is;

The Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary, a Michigan Audubon sanctuary, has an area of over 1,000 acres.  The varied habitats include Beech and Oak Climax forests and native grasslands in the upland areas; among those in the wetland areas are a fen, a hardwood swamp, Eagle Lake and Mud Lake Marsh.

We spent some time walking and exploring the nature trails, bird watching, and taking in the scenery. At the same time, my spiritual path is primarily a meditative and contemplative one. Yes, there are elements of trance, divination, and other things, but the bulk of my time is meditative. As such, as a walking meditation, I spent a lot of my time at the sanctuary just being… present. Being aware of my breathing, saying hello to plants and animals (especially Tree Swallows), and also reading the various posts and displays about the history of the place.

A spiritual place, a secular shrine?

Like so many places in Michigan, this was once Anishinaabek land, until it was eventually parceled up, bought and purchased by various generations of settlers mostly of European descent. That is something I was aware of as I walked the lands. I was also aware of the ongoing restoration and conservation projects, and the fact that area was referred to as a Sanctuary, a place of safety, a sacred place for nature and for for people like me.

This, I think, is the real take away for me. As a practicing animist, and modern pagan, these kinds of places are essential to my practice. Not only are such sanctuaries vital for combatting climate change, and giving nature a place to ‘just be’, but they could also be places for a kind of Michigan animism. My practice is a kind of nature religion and eco-spirituality, and so places like the Haehnle Sanctuary are great places, as both a kind of ‘shrine’, and a sacred place.

The spirit of the sanctuary itself is present in everything in the area in both an animistic and pantheistic way, but also in a discrete, diverse, and unique polytheistic kind of way. You feel the spirit(s) with each breath, as part of the oxygen and carbon cycles that connect you to systems of nature in a wide sense. That spirit is also felt in the swallows and other birds that flit about, and even the snake we saw resting in the sun. In a way, the minimal architecture functions in some ways like a Shinto shrine; as a place to connect with the spirit of the place. A place of mediation and reflection and to ‘just be’ as a part of nature.

I’mma snek

Closing Thoughts

Michigan is full of these kinds of places, and they make up an important part of my spiritual practice. I have visited places on the Great Lakes, Waterloo State Park, Tahquamenon Falls, Hartwick Pines, Sleeping Bear Dunes, among many others. Many of these places have the same kind of feel as the Sanctuary, as well as places we could consider a kind of public, secular, and spiritual spaces. These are just a small sampling of examples that hope to explore more in the future. Little bits of a local spiritual path, and a larger work in progress.

As always,

Thanks for reading.


Gaia – An Animistic Perspective

“If we ever hope to survive as a species, we must use our intelligence for the greater good of the planet.” – Adam Frank

From the article, (University of Rochester illustration / Michael Osadciw)

Updated to add: James Lovelock passed away on July 26, 2022. What is remembered, lives.

Hello again folks!

As usual, life continues to be crazy. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I don’t want to dwell too much on that right now, as this could be a long one, and I want to jump right into it. As you can tell from the title of this post, today we are going to jumping into the deep end talking about Gaia, or specifically, about the Gaia Hypothesis. This idea was formulated by chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970’s. The basic idea as introduced in the main article I’ll be discussing today is as follows;

“Frank, Grinspoon, and Walker (the authors of the article) draw from ideas such as the Gaia hypothesis—which proposes that the biosphere interacts strongly with the non-living geological systems of air, water, and land to maintain Earth’s habitable state—to explain that even a non-technologically capable species can display planetary Intelligence. The key is that the collective activity of life creates a system that is self-maintaining.”

‘Gaia’ as understood in this way is more than the sum of its parts, and this is also true of my understanding of spirits in a broad animistic sense. My spirit is my body, my organs, my mind, and the relationships between all these components. It is also bigger than that, and include the relationships outside my body too. We are a social species, so who we are as persons is also defined by others. Our networks shapes who we are as people. No person is an island. We exist socially, we ‘think’ socially’, and we… spirit socially. That is the nature of being part of a complex system. This extends well beyond the idea of being ‘an organism’;

“Gaia was not, however, to be seen as an organism. As Margulis wrote ‘[Gaia] is an emergent property of interaction among organisms, the spherical planet on which they reside, and an energy source, the Sun’ This concept of the emergence of a new planetary property from the networked activity of individual players was the central insight of what came to be called Gaia Theory. As Margulis later wrote ‘Gaia is the regulated surface of the planet incessantly creating new environments and new organisms…. Less a single live entity than a huge set of interacting ecosystems, the Earth as Gaian regulatory physiology transcends all individual organisms’ “

A huge network of interacting relationships, that is the spirit of Gaia. That includes you and me too. The totality of that complex system is the planet we all live upon. In addition, the authors are also talking about the idea of planetary intelligence, which I admit can be a bit intimidating. I have written about these ideas before, and I think they are great extension on my recent Deeper Philosophy posts on this blog. Today we will be talking Earth Systems Science, complex systems, extended cognition, and intelligence, and not just of humans. (More on this can be found here.) Let’s start with the basic idea of complex systems, from the article;

“Put simply, a complex system is anything built from smaller parts that interact in such a fashion that the overall behavior of the system is entirely dependent on the interaction. That is, the sum is more than the whole of its parts. Examples of complex systems include forests, the Internet, financial markets, and the human brain.”

As far as the Earth System is concerned; you, I, the rocks, trees, plants, everything including the Sun (as chief energy source) are part of the same complex system. Human societies and cities also fit the bill. In addition, complex systems often have to be treated holistically; due to the property of emergence, they are very hard to ‘cut up into parts’ (reductionism) in order to study. It is by the very interrelations between the components in a system.

“By its very nature, a complex system has entirely new properties that emerge when individual pieces are interacting. It is difficult to discern the personality of a human being, for instance, solely by examining the neurons in her brain.”

Notice the focus on relationships here, and how different beings relate is at the core of animism. There is also a huge overlap in animism between ones person and ones personality, and again this just another part of our spirit. In old Norse this is hugr, ones totality of thoughts, emotions, and personality and a also vital spiritual component. In Finnish paganism, it is itse, literally ones ‘personality’, what makes us a person. Notice this also broadly includes as well as non-humans, as well as technology; forests, lakes, and yes, our own brains. This is also true when we think about intelligence and cognition, it is not something that exclusively belongs to humans. Plants can ‘think’ through their roots, forests can ‘think’ through vast networks of mycorrhizal fungi. Just as importantly, this is a social and communal kind of thinking, that extends beyond individuals. Animism is the idea that the world is full of persons, human and non-human. Here we add in a quote from the original publication;

“Conventionally, intelligence is seen as a property of individuals. However, it can also be a property of collectives. Examples include collective-decision-making by social insects , slime mould navigating mazes , and even intelligent behaviour of individual cells and viruses which are themselves a collective of chemical processes. Humans are also intelligent, and our intelligence primarily derives from our social behaviour which is currently global in its reach.”

and also;

“Our explicit definition of planetary intelligence is the acquisition and application of collective knowledge, operating at a planetary scale, which is integrated into the function of coupled planetary systems.”

Towards An Intelligent, Mature Planet

I know that may have a been a bit of a slog, and I hope I brought it together well enough that you have stayed with me. It can be hard to communicate in a short blog such vast ideas that don’t require specialized jargon or more than a basic understanding of the topic at hand. But now we get into the nitty gritty, and the part of the article that really stood out to me.

In both the original publication, and Adam Frank’s book The Light of the Stars, Frank and others set out new ways to classify planets. This is done broadly across the relationship between the planets biosphere (all life), and the technosphere, being a technological civilization on that planet. Feel free to check on the article for more details, because I have ordered this information in a handy table.

Distilled from the article, publication and Frank’s book.

You will notice I place “we are here” under a type 4/Immature Technosphere. To elaborate, according to Frank’s book, we are moving from a type 4 to a type 5, but our success is in no way guaranteed. In fact, the climate crisis, which human activities are driving, could well be an extinction event for our species. From the article;

“Right now, our civilization is what the researchers call an “immature technosphere,” a conglomeration of human-generated systems and technology that directly affects the planet but is not self-maintaining. For instance, the majority of our energy usage involves consuming fossil fuels that degrade Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. The technology and energy we consume to survive are destroying our home planet, which will, in turn, destroy our species.”

Animistic Implications

“To survive as a species, then, we need to collectively work in the best interest of the planet.”

I realize I just threw a lot of information at you, and if you have stayed with me this far, I thank you. What is the the takeaway from all this? How do I, as a ‘practicing animist’, take this kind of information into my own practice? Well, let’s start out by saying that this is not the first time ‘Gaia’ has entered into the pagansphere, and it won’t be the last. This has come with… a long history of both uses and abuses that are well outside my scope in this post.

Yet, having written a lot about the climate crisis, it is good to see this kind of information laid out by people that know a lot more about science than I do. It gives us some signposts on what may come next for ourselves as a species, and for the planet. It’s a way to think about ourselves in the Big Picture, and puts in perspective the real existential threats we face.

In addition, I think it frames animism for me in that big picture. It’s not just about us humans, but about every living and non-living entity on this planet. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this ride together. The climate crisis is driven by increases feedback loops of carbon in the atmosphere, and the breakdown of feedback loops that use to handle that carbon, and our reckless obsession with burning more and more carbon in the form of fossil fuels. Those feedback loops are our relationship with the planet in a big way, and those relationships are central to being an animist.

Most importantly, we can change those relationships. We have that agency, and admittedly, that’s big capital ‘W’ Work. We are a technological species on a planet with the only robust biosphere we know of. That comes with a hefty set of obligations and responsibilities to ourselves and other living beings.

I also understand spirits are not only individual beings, but also as the holistic expression of those complex systems. The spirit of the forest is all the individual trees, animals etc, but also the relationships between the entire system over space and time. In no small way, the Earth is the penultimate system for us humans, and we are part of that system. We humans are part of the Earth’s spirit, and also the part that are driving it towards a cliff.

There are interlinks all throughout these ideas with what I have already written in my Deeper Philosophy posts. When we start to see the Earth as sacred, that’s where the immanence and even transcendence (to a degree) comes in. We see the spirit of the Earth spread out before us in a pantheistic way, but also in a diverse plurality that is polytheistic and full of local spirits of countless forms. Gaia, framed this way, comes with an implicit duty for us to treat the world as a sacred being, and a responsibility to create well-being for ourselves and the planet.

The Earth is a natural system, one that has evolved over billions of years. We are an extension of that natural system. We are also a part of a spirit system bigger than ourselves; a vast complex of spiritual/divine beings living in relationship to one another.

We have a choice in how those relationships develop, and in the last word from the article;

“Humanity currently sits at a precipice: our collective actions clearly have global consequences, but we are not yet in control of those consequences. A transition to planetary intelligence, as we described here, would have the hallmark property of intelligence operating at a planetary scale.”

As always,

Thanks for reading.

Sources/References;

Can a planet have a mind of its own?

Intelligence as a planetary scale process

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

Towards an Animistic Science of the Earth

Can a Planet Be Intelligent?


Deeper Philosophy – The secular, sacred, and profane

There are two last concepts I want to touch on here that relate to my previous posts. These are ideas that often come up in spiritual and religious discourse, and these are the concepts of the sacred and the profane. In order to explore them more in an animistic/naturalistic context, I think we should start with basic definitions. Like before, these are a starting point, not a final say. Dictionary definitions do not include the full breath and scope of these ideas, which have filled volumes. I am using these just to get the ball rolling.

Sacred1

1a: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity

b: devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose)

2a: worthy of religious veneration

b: entitled to reverence and respect

3: of or relating to religion : not secular or profane

I have left out further definitions, as they don’t add much to my purpose here. Right out of the gate we can see call backs to deity, which I covered in the pantheism post. To recap, in a naturalistic, immanent view of spirits, this includes the material world. Nature and physical existence is divine, is deity. Spirits are an intrinsic part of creations, and given the interchangeable nature of spirit/god I have used throughout this chapter, nature is deity, and as such inherently sacred. Nature is worthy of spiritual reverence and respect, and that includes most aspects of these definitions. Sacredness is immanent, inherit to the physical world, not apart from it.

As a note, definition (3) I have included because it mentions profane as the opposite of sacred. We will explore that in a moment, but I also wanted to highlight that this definition also mentions ‘not secular’.

Secular2

1: not spiritual:of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world

2: not religious

3: of, relating to, or controlled by the government rather than by the church

This opens up a whole can of worms that are outside this discussion. It would take a lot more words to unpack all that. But let’s touch on it briefly all the same. To definition 1), I am arguing that the physical world and the spiritual world are one in the same, the general idea behind immanence. This is the kind of dichotomy that animism regular challenges, and starts to break down. Just like Cartesian soul/body, physical/spiritual, matter/spirit, or in this case secular/spiritual dualities

For definition 3), I’m not touching that just at this second. Not only does this have very Christian connotations (eg ‘the church), but it also touches on the nature of governance, and how that should be defined. That’s a whole other discussion that I am happy to set aside for now. For the record, I am in no way arguing that priests (even animistic ones) should run the government.

Definition 2) thus becomes the tricky one, so let’s touch on that for just a bit, and as you have guessed, with a definition of religion.

Religion3

1: the belief in a god or in a group of gods

2: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods

I think I have adequately made the case for definition one in an animistic, naturalistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic context. I think it is fair to say there are beings that could be called gods. I am not going to rehash that all, so let’s put a checkmark by that one and move on.

As for definition 2), this is where things get a lot more nuanced. Throughout this series I have generally treated animism as a worldview, and not as a religion per se. Again, animism is the basic idea that the world is full of persons (spiritual/non-human and otherwise); and that life is lived in relation to others. That in and of itself is not a religion, but a way of seeing the world, thus, a worldview.

That being said, I do think it can, and does have spiritual and religious aspects. I hope this has been clear, but at the same time; all the rituals and ceremonies are something that come later. How you approach nature, the spirits/gods, and the ceremonies that come out of that… Well that is up to you. For me, animism came first, the worldview came first. The paradigm shift. All the rest came out of that shift, and out of my understanding of nature, spirits, and how I relate to those beings. You may choose to reject my ideas, and choose a more atheistic, or supernatural approach. That’s perfectly okay, and even Shinto has those kinds of adherents. Some people go to the shrines don’t believe in gods or spirits, others do. They still find some meaning in the ceremonies and rituals, and it’s okay if your mileage varies from mine.

With that in mind, let’s get to the last part of this discussion, the nature of the profane. For this one there is both a verb and an adjective form, and it’s important for my purposes that we discuss both. Let’s start with the adjective form.

Profane – Adjective4

1: not concerned with religion or religious purposes

2: not holy because unconsecrated, impure, or defiled

3a: serving to debase or defile what is holy

The first definition here encounters some of the same critiques I mentioned with ‘religion’ and ‘secular’ above. In fact, secular in a bit of synonym with the first definition. If we are talking immanence, then nature and the world are inherently spiritual as well as physical. There is not anyway to be ‘unconcerned’ as we live a material existence. We are part of the world, and are spiritual beings within it. Now, we don’t have to make they expressly part of a spiritual or religious practice as I said above; as there is more than one way to approach the world. Again, your mileage may vary.

Definition two and three both relate to ‘holiness’, which I think (again synonymous) with the discussions of the sacred already covered. About the only difference here is in the idea of religious or spiritual rituals. Nature is holy/sacred intrinsically, that’s been my whole argument. However, there is the idea of ritual, ceremony, and/or practice that acknowledges that inherent sacredness. There is also the idea of ‘defiled’ in two and three that deserves more exploration.

Profane – transitive verb

1: to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contempt

2: to debase by a wrong, unworthy, or vulgar use

Here, profanity is being treat as an action, a relationship with that which is sacred. In our case, nature and the physical world. To profane what is sacred is a deliberate, intentional choice in this case. To defile, to desecrate, this is relational. A case can be made for profanity as something we do.

As an example, let’s talk about fossil fuels. It is unequivocal at this point that our relationship with fossil fuels is driving the climate crisis. I’m one of those odd people that reads the IPCC reports in their entirety, and I’m not here to debate the science. The science is settled. The climate crisis is human driven, and our burning of fossil fuels is a huge contributor to this crisis. Now, in broad strokes most fossil fuels form in the earth through natural decay processes. In a way, coal, oil, and others are one of the many ways planets store excess carbon.

Then we as human dig up that carbon, and use it to drive our civilization, releasing all that stored carbon into the air where it traps heat. That’s one of the driving factors behind the climate crisis we are facing. From a naturalistic and animist perspective, it is our relationship with fossil fuels that is causing untold harm to our present and our future. Our actions in this regard could be argued to be profane, as we are deliberately harming nature and our planet. Which as established, is inherently sacred. In no small way, the climate crisis is a spiritual crisis.

A spiritual crisis that has already done untold harm to our planet, to life, and to ourselves as a species. Our relationships with the planet are in many ways profane, an abuse upon something that is sacred. This is why the climate crisis is among the top issues I will talk about again and again, because it strikes at our very spirit as lifeforms on the Earth. The path ahead is difficult, and full of obstacles, but lets not lose sight that we can change those relationships. We are spirits, we have agency. We can, and should, choose a different path.

Which is where I am going to end this series. Future posts will refer back, and hopefully build on these ideas. As I’ve said, I practice an animism that is naturalistic, pantheistic, and polytheistic. Nature is sacred to me, and manifests as a plurality of unique beings and systems. How we relate to those beings is up to us, and there is a lot of work to be done.

As always,

Thanks for reading!

1https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sacred

2https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/secular

3https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

4https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/profane


Deeper Philosophy – Polytheism

Hello again folks!

In addition to the deep connection between animism and ecology I have talked about here frequently, I have also explored the fact that the material and the spiritual are indistinguishable in my past post in this series. What we perceive through our senses each and every day is the real world, as well as the spiritual world. That is what is meant by immanence, that spirit and material are identical. This idea was more reinforced throughout my exploration above of pantheism, the basic idea that spirit/divine/god is present in everything. It easily follows that science (Western, indigenous, etc) is an exploration of both the physical world, and the spiritual world. There is a great deal of meaning for ourselves in this simple statement.

But pulling back from that a little bit, I want to talk more about how I think a kind of polytheism could easily be extrapolated from the naturalistic animism/pantheism I have outlined in this series. Again, we will be looking to ecology to help us explore this topic.

First, let’s start off with the fact that the discipline of ecology is scalable, meaning that we can look at various systems from the smallest to largest. We can talk about individual microbes as found in drops of water, or we can talk about vast planetary systems of relationships between organisms and their environment. Heck, as we extend our view out into the universe, maybe someday we will be even be able to talk about interplanetary life. We are talking about the full scale of life here, and that’s a whole lot of complexity.1

I won’t be able to cover that for obvious reasons, so let’s refine our focus a bit. Let’s talk about ecosystems and biomes. Ecosystems is a broad term for all the organisms and their interactions with their environment in a given area. We could be talking about an individual lake ecosytems, or a river, or a series of interconnected forests. It’s about where we draw the lines and boundaries, so we can focus our attention on a specific system. More importantly, it gives us a crucial lens in which to a view a naturalistic, animistic polytheism.

As we can break up the world into discrete ecosystems, we can also use this basic idea to shape an eco-polytheism. Through ecological studies, we can say things like that even though A and B are both lakes, they are individual lakes. Even if they are both freshwater lakes that are nearby one another, we can say they are unique lakes. Taking this a step further, and linking back to our conversation of pantheism, we can say that both theses lakes have spirits. You can even call them gods if you want to, because as explained, we can use these terms interchangeably.2

These two lakes have a uniqueness that separates them, even if there is otherwise a great deal they have in common. They could have similar types of fish, and other organisms. Both lakes could be just ‘across the way’ from each other, and have similar mineral compositions and temperature conditions. But even so, maybe it would be more accurate to say these two lakes might be closely related to one another, siblings perhaps. But even if they are twins, they are not exactly the same.

Which means that the spirits of lakes A and B are not the same either, in line with their material and systemic differences. That leads us to, whether we call these lake spirits or lake gods, that we now have two discrete spiritual/material entities. Long story short, I think this is how we can get a kind of polytheistic animism out of the ideas I have already outlined above. I live in Michigan, and the Great Lakes are all connected, and similar in a lot of ways. Again, they are not the same, and my practice treats them all as ‘big spirits’, and each unique in their own right.

We can consider biomes in much the same way. Now, biomes are considered in a broad sense one step above ecosystems, and outline broad habitats that share similar characteristics. For example, I live in the biome typically referred to as a temperate broadleaf (decidious) forest. This means I live in a habitat dominated by trees that typically drop their leaves each year. It is prominent in the eastern and central United States. In addition, it is also very prominent in Western Europe as well, and the lands of many of my ancestors. Of course, I also live south of the taiga, or boreal forest biomes. When we start talking about the Northern Great Lakes region in Canada, and my ancestral homeland in the Nordic countries, we are talking about boreal forests, which are also near and dear to my heart.

Considering biomes from an animistic perspective, we can see another case being made for the diversity of spirits/gods. My temperate forests are not the same as the forests in the taiga to my north, and argueably, they are not the same as even the temperate forests in Europe. Again, we can talk about the “close relatives”, in that the temperate forests of the US and Europe are similar in many ways, but also very different in others. Given the scale of these forests, it would be pretty easy to consider them as big spirits, as gods. As such, we encounter that fundamental plurality and diversity that is at the heart of polytheism, as well as ecology. In a world full of persons/spirits, diversity in the norm not the exception.

One last point I want to stress is that humans and our civilizations are absolutely included in this consideration. Our cities can be called urban ecosystems, and one is not the same as another. That’s some of the joy in visiting different cities, and experiencing the uniqueness of each. In addition, we as humans are organisms, and part of nature and our natural environments. Our impact and way of living on this world definitely has a spiritual component. In many ways, our interactions with cities, forests, and lakes makes us part of these spirits. That fact alone is what makes this work meaningful to me.

As always,

Thanks for reading!

References;

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology

2Yes, we could even go deeper into the etymology of ‘god’ in the germanic languages, as one who ‘libations are poured out’, and I don’t think this makes a meaningful distinction either. Whether ‘big spirit’ or ‘god’, you can still pour libations. https://www.etymonline.com/word/god


Deeper Philosophy – Pantheism and Transcendence

Hello again folks,

Life continues to be very busy, and very stressful for me. There is the rush of spring outdoor work, my day job, and a whole bunch of other personal things I’d rather not go into here. Suffice to say life has been chaotic, and I’m definitely not getting as much done as I’d like to. Still things are moving forward, even at a snail’s pace. So let’s jump right back into things.

In Part 1 of this series, I spent time exploring the implications of naturalism and immanence in an animistic worldview. To briefly rehash that, I subscribe to a naturalistic and predominately immanent view of the world. Meaning in short, that I don’t generally default to supernatural explanations, and that I think ‘spirit’ and/or ‘divinity’ is more or less the exact same with the natural world. Shorter version, nature is what is a what is material and spirtual. We will get deeper into that as we go along.

So with discussion of naturalism and immanence out of the way,, I do think there is a little bit of wiggle room in animism and within these ideas for what is called transcendence. Transcendence is often the contrast of immanence, and usually posits that a spirit or a god is ‘above or beyond the limits of ordinary experience.’

Again from wikipedia;1 “In religion, transcendence is the aspect of a deity’s nature and power that is wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws. This is contrasted with immanence, where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world and thus accessible to creatures in various ways.” In this way, a transcendent spirit would be beyond the material world, or outside of our physical reality. I generally reject this argument, at least to a degree. Let me explain with an example.

A walk in the woods is also communion with spirits. The forest, being greater than ourselves; includes the trees, the land, and countless other components. Communion with that spirit can be described as transcendental for the simple reason that it puts us in communication with a being greater than ourselves. It puts us in ‘contact’ with a consciousness, perhaps even an intelligence, whose experience is measured in millennia. In addition, this also scales, as a single forest is also part of a greater bioregion, and that is part of the Earth as a whole, which is also just a small part of Universe. Thereby transcendence and immanence are not wholly mutually exclusive in an animistic context. As beings in networks, we are part of something greater than ourselves, but more on that in a bit.

Going back to my previous point about transcendence, I stated it is a concept is one I generally reject. I don’t think spirits/the divine etc, in the broad material and naturalistic sense – are in any way outside or beyond the natural, materialistic universe. That being said, one of the many contexts of transcendence is that a given being ‘exceeds normal limits’ or is somehow beyond the realm of normal experience. This is possible within an animistic context, but not in a way where it is independent from the material universe.

The idea of spirits being immanent (as well transcendent to a degree) is a perfect segue into the idea of pantheism, the belief that our physical reality is identical with divinity.2 That ‘nature’ and ‘god’ are identical, and the material is the spiritual. Yet, in order to do that there are some concepts we need to touch on a little more deeply.

Several of these concepts were used without note above. I would like to briefly tackle the use of ‘deity’ and ‘divine’ in some of the above definitions. This also correlates to ideas of gods. You will note that the second root of Pan-theism is in fact theism, which is a general belief in the existence of gods. Broadly, I am treating spirit/deity/divine more or less interchangeably. Yes, they do mean somewhat different things. That said, it follows that if spirit(s) are immanent in nature, then nature itself is spiritual and thus sacred. Existing is a sacred thing, and so mostly for semantic reasons, that’s why I use these concepts as more interrelated than not.

Let’s dig a little deeper shall we? Now, it needs to be said that dictionary definition are not the end all/be all of any spiritual discussion. They are merely a starting point. But in order to make my case why I think these are more or less interchangable in an animistic concept, first we have to define our terms. I’m using merriam-webster online for each of these;

1) Deity

1a: the rank or essential nature of a god (divinity)

b capitalized GOD sense 1, SUPREME BEING

2: a god or goddess

3: one exalted or revered as supremely good or powerful

Alright, so right out of the gate, pretty much every definition of ‘deity’ revolves around the idea of god-hood. What is the nature of a god? That is a big question, and we will get to that in a moment. Let’s get through the other definitions before we get to that. In addition, we are also going to be sidestepping both 1b, given the Christian/monotheistic implications, and 3, as that one brings in moral and power based ideas. Those definitions are best set aside as they do little to move this exploration forward. Let’s look at divinity for a brief moment.

2) Divine/Divinity

1: relating to or coming from God or a god

2: very good (Eg, this pie is divine)

Divine and deity are almost synonymous when you look at these basic definitions. They both stem from the idea of godhood, and what is divine is something that comes from a god. They are two self reinforcing concepts, as they are defined in relation to one another. Again, definition 2 is being set aside as it isn’t really relevant to this discussion. (mmmm, pie.) Obviously, the last idea we have to look at in regards to an animistic pan-theism, the idea of gods.

3) (G)god

1: The perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe

2: A spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people; one of various spirits or beings worshipped in some religions

3: A person and especially a man who is greatly loved or admired

Taking three off the table, we are concerned here with the first two definitions. As was with deity, the first definition has deep monotheistic implications, and we are again going to leave that definition aside. We are not strictly talking about ‘perfect, all powerful supreme beings’ here, nor are we talking about Christianity, Judaism, or Islam in particular. Each of those major religions have their own diverse and wide ranging individual theologies and I am not here to offer commentary on any of them.

Which leaves the second definition the most pressing. Right away, we see a god defined as “a spirit or being”, which means we are not wrong to refer to the divine and spirits somewhat interchangeably. This would not be inaccurate even by the most general dictionary definitions. The latter part as ‘beings of great power… that can affect nature and lives of people” this takes a little more exploration.

Let’s come back to the example of the forest once again. In animism, it is fair to say the entire forest; every tree, animal, and the vast systemic relationships between matter and energy all throughout – that is the naturalistic spirit of the forest. The entire being of the forest, in almost every way greater than ourselves in history, knowledge, and power. The spirit of the forest, being a part of nature, also has the power to affect nature and people. We would all be in a far worst climate crisis without forests. Without the spirits of the forests, big and small, our existence would be the less for it. Forests can and do affect the quality of our air, the temperature of cities, and many of things besides. I think it would be a foolish to even try to dismiss the very real impact forests have on natural and human systems.

I think an easy case could be made for forest spirits as gods. Ecosystems and the spirits of those networks are in many ways greater than ourselves. You can scale that up too, and many cultures throughout the world consider the planet as a goddess (eg Gaia, and a whole other post). As such, I find that whether we are talking about ‘big spirits’ or ‘gods’ to be more of a matter of preference. I prefer spirits, but your mileage may vary. Use the word that works best for you.

Defining spirits from a naturalistic and immanent perspective makes a strong case for animism also being pantheistic. The general idea being that pantheism is “the belief that reality is identical with divinity, or that all things compose an all-encompassing, immanent god or goddess.” (Wikipedia). Just as a note; we are focusing on the first part more than the second. I’m not tackling ‘all encompassing’ mono or dualistic theisms right now.

In the next post, I will be talking about polytheism, and how it relates to this whole deeper dive. As I am sure you can see, these concepts overlap and build on each other in a lot of ways. This is true in the several religions such as Shinto3 that very much demonstrate the interconnection of naturalistic, animistic, and theistic ideas. Shinto is religion that is deeply centered around natural places, as is described as both animistic and polytheistic.

But that will have to be for next time.

As always,

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendence_(religion)

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto


Deeper Philosophy – Naturalism and Immanence

Hello again!

I’ve been writing a lot over the winter, and finally am mostly finished with the second draft of my animism book. A lot of good thoughts fell out of me while I was working away at it, and I want to share at least some of those thoughts here. Maybe consider this a bit of hype, for some future publication.

One of the favorite chapters I have written was about a deeper kind of animistic philosophy, where I explored many different definitions that frequently circulate among spiritual and religious discourse, even among pagan communities. As such, I wanted to present that chapter here as a series of blogs. I think they are worth exploring as a way to deepen my own understanding of my practice, as well as share bits of that with you all.

My understanding of animism, and the various ways I define that, has to have a practical footing. It has to work, and not just for myself. Deep within animism is a community. A community of plants and animals, rocks and trees, air currents and rivers. I have defined animism for myself many times on this blog, and I don’t feel the need here to recap that again, so I’m going to jump right into it.

It’s a big web of interrelations. We are going to talk more about Earth Systems Science in future blogs.

Naturalism

Starting from that larger community, in many ways I was ‘spirit taught’ animism. My first experiences with the wider community and other-than-human persons stems from my childhood. I grew up in a very rural environment, and that can be a fairly isolating experience. Your (human) friends aren’t always close by, and you are often left to make your own entertainment. That is why I say I learned my spirituality from forests and from fields. Those are the places I spent a lot of my childhood, and frankly, a lot of my adulthood too.

This has embedded a deep sense of naturalism1 in my own practice. By this I mean that I don’t tend to default to supernatural explanations when I am practicing my spirituality. The best way to make the corn grow is with good clean water, and lot’s of sunlight. There is no need for elves or dragons to make the corn grow. I don’t mean this in a flippant or dismissive way, because there are certainly room for such beings (also metaphors, poetics, or other bit of myth making), but that isn’t my default mode, and that is what works for me. Which is really the point I am trying to hammer home, it needs to work, and what works for me may not work for you.

But wait, isn’t that a contradiction? That is what you might be thinking right now, as I just said that I don’t default to supernatural2, but there is also room for elves and dragons in animism? This is and/both kind of thing, because if it isn’t clear yet, animism is complex and complicated. Let me clarify with an example, let’s talk about corn again. Corn is natural, a complex organism of multitudes of networks of matter and energy. A nuanced and complicated system of physics, biology, and generations worth of evolutionary history. Those natural processes and complexity is the spirit of the corn, what the corn is as a spiritual person. Corn grows from minerals, water, and sunlight, like generations of corn-y ancestors did before. In addition, corn has been heavily shaped and domesticated by human hands, and the corn we know today is very different than the most ancient forms.

But is there a Corn Dragon? There could be, as we humans are well practiced storytellers and artists. The corn is a real physical being, and so a Corn Dragon could be artistically grounded as a personal understanding of corn as an individual, or as a species. How connect the two is up to us, it’s not either/or. The corn dragon could be a literal and/or poetic/metaphoric understanding of corn and how it interacts with the environment. That’s a complex web, and broadly our minds might have trouble wrapping around the entire complexity that is corn, Sometimes that interpretation is up to us, but also how the spirit decides to present to us. Sometimes metaphors and stories are easier ways to communicate complex concepts as well.

Folklore is full of these kinds of stories, and often contain nuggets of truth about our relationship to nature. The short of it is, corn is a spiritual and physical being, a real natural person. The Corn Dragon can be an expression of that realness in whatever way works for us, and that is the point. We can understand spiritual beings through natural science as well as through stories and art. Find what works for you, and may the Corn Dragon bless you with a full belly. Provided you aren’t deathly allergic to corn, that is.

Animism and Immanence

As my example of the Corn Dragon illustrates, animism isn’t all or nothing. It is complex, multilayered, and holistic. It is a spiritual path, and our way of viewing the world. It as much stories and folklore as it is science. There is nothing in this spiritual worldview that presents us from seeing nature and the world as full of beings, beings with lives and agendas all their own. It is a world full of rock persons, river spirits, and yes even corn dragons if that is what you want. The point of animism is about relationships, and how we understand how we relate to each other and the world around us.

Animism, and naturalism, are also the grounded in the fact that the whole is greater, and so much bigger, than the sum of the parts. We as humans are enmeshed in a world so much bigger than ourselves, so full of life, and spirit and many other wonderful things. We are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and that is the heart of the spiritual experience. Through animism we cultivate deeper and more meaningful relationships with each other and our planet, and that is both awe-inspiring and at times deeply terrifying. That is the nature of a spiritual life, and that too is a great introduction to animism as an immanent way of living.

Immanence is a concept in philosophy and theology that taken at the simplest, dictionary definition means that something (such as spirit or divinity) ‘dwells within’, and is inherent to the natural world. Wikipedia3 starts off by saying; “The doctrine or theory of immanence holds that the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world.” Speaking more broadly and animistically, this means that spirit(s) are something inherent in the world. They are not ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ the material universe we are still coming to know. There is not discrete ‘spirit stuff’ that can be separated out from the material world. Spirit(s) are energy, are matter, and is/are part of everything from quarks to galaxies. Spirit(s) are not transcendent, they are not ‘beyond the world’ or controlling events outside of space and time. This is not only a rejection of the body/mind/spirit separation, but also a rejection of the monotheistic idea that any divine ‘creator’ is outside the realm of time and space, setting the ‘clockwork in motion’.

To put this another way, the spirit of the forest is the trees, and soils, and animals, as well as everything else that makes up the forest. But there is also a lot of complexity and nuance here. The spirit of the forest is also the system in totality and holistically. The phenomenon, the experience of the whole. It is more than the trees et al, but also all the relationships between all the beings within the forest. It is the cycle of nutrients through the roots, the cycle of gases between the leaves at atmosphere. It is both corporeal and incorporeal parts of the system, both what we see and what we don’t. It is the ecosystem of countless beings making decisions and doing their own thing independently that adds up to something far greater than individual actions. That’s the whole point of community. The spirit of the forest is the experience of the whole system as much as it is the individual components. Most importantly, when we step into the forest, we are part of that network, part of that system. Through an animistic perspective, a walk in the woods is a communion with the spirits. As a spiritual being in a community with other spiritual beings.

This all scales rather rapidly as well, because as humans on Earth, we are part of a community of communities. Forests become bioregions, and bioregions come together to form the vast and diverse biosphere that is part of our planet. Reaching out to touch a being of that scale vastly exceeds our capacities as individual humans, and so we might only ever understand a facet of that kind of scale. Honestly, there are very real cognitive human limits in place. How does one understand the mind of a forest? That’s where this discussion starts to wander it’s way into talk of pantheistic and transcendent (to a degree) ideas, and that will be for another post.

As always,

Thanks for reading!

1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)

2Here I am defining supernatural as something that is outside the natural laws and forces of the universe.

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanence


Green Steel – Another Nerd Post

Hello again folks!

This is another ‘just for fun post’, because sometimes you need a break from the very serious writing. My brain needs a break sometimes, so you get to read about the weird and wild things that I find fascinating. The animism book is coming along well, and we are probably in the last quarter of re-writes. Home stretch!

In many ways, this post is a follow up to my last post about Armor, and a post about Space Engineers. Short version, I really love Space Engineers, and I gave it an honorable mention in my last post. This game is a sandbox game dated to the later half of this century. I love the games focus on exploration and creativity, as well as the fairly realistic science aspects. I can make space ships from start to finish, what isn’t to love?

You can build ships, stations, and pretty much anything else you can dream up. You mine for raw materials, process them, and lay down your designs using a block-based system. One of the key blocks for your vehicles is of course armor; light and heavy block built of steel and alloys. You might be wondering, why this obsession with armor, what’s the point? I explained some of that in my last post, and frankly, I want to give this game more love. Also, as a blacksmith, I find the metallurgy of steel and metal fascinating, in both game and the real world. So let’s get to the fun part.

Aloy, master smith! Yeah, I’m playing Horizon Forbidden West currently. Not strictly part of this post, but still a cool cover image.

‘Green’ Steel

The real world process that inspired this post is called ‘fossil fuel-free’, or ‘green’ steel. Now, in short steel is just an alloy of iron and carbon (in very controlled percentages, lots of technical details omitted), sometimes with other metals in the mix for corrosion resistance (stainless steel) or hardness (say, armor plating.)

The primary way we make steel today is via the blast furnace. Large amounts of iron ore and coke (cooked coal, basically) is combined in a vessel where it is blasted with air and smelted down into iron. This iron is then transferred to another process, in modern times usually an electric arc furnace (often with scrap steel) or basic oxygen furnace. Here the iron is mixed with carbon and other elements to make the final alloy, which is then finished to plates, wires, bars, beams or any other steel product.

The kicker with this whole process is the carbon emissions. It’s not what we would call a ‘clean’ process, and steel production is about 7-8% of total global emissions. Much of that comes from the fossil fuel necessary for steel making – coal. To regular readers of this blog, you know this hurts the environmentalist parts of my soul. I firmly think that we need to end our reliance on fossil fuels to have a real chance at a truly sustainable future.

Yet, steel is so ubiquitous and foundational to the modern world, and as a blacksmith I would be sad without steel. That begs the question, is there a way we could create a cleaner and more sustainable method of creating steel? The answer is absolutely, and for this I’d like to introduce you to the HYBRIT project.

This video above explains many of the basics I have just laid out, as well as what HYBRIT is doing differently. It’s 2 minutes of your time, and entirely worth it. The basic idea is to replace blast furnace coal with green hydrogen (produced from water via electrolysis) and electricity from renewable energy sources. Hydrogen, instead of coal, becomes the source of heat in the blast furnace, eliminating carbon dioxide emissions. And this isn’t just wishful thinking, HYBRIT has actually produced steel with this process. (2 minutes)

Then, they delivered this steel to Volvo, and produced a electric, autonomous dump vehicle. (1 minute)

The blacksmith in me desperately wants to work a piece of this steel. It probably wouldn’t work any different than traditional steel, but realize I am also an animist, and have written about the Spirits of Iron, and frankly to me it’s more than how the steel works, but the spirit of the steel. A steel produced with sustainability in mind, well that could be something special.

Space Engineers

Okay, now it’s time for another love letter to Space Engineers. The reason is because ‘green’ steel is in fact possible in the game world as well. You see, one of the main sources of electricity and thruster fuel in Space Engineers is in fact, hydrogen. I think hydrogen is one of the many ‘keys’ to a truly sustainable energy system for our civilization; along with things like wind/solar/batteries. All of which are available in the game as well.

You can see the water-ice in the background.

My hydrogen facility above makes hydrogen and oxygen from water-ice.. In addition, it is largely powered by solar panels, and hydrogen generators. This is the principal behind green hydrogen electrolysis, where electricity is used to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen. You can see the panels, electrolytic stacks, and the large hydrogen generators in picture above.

The next part of the process is the blast furnace. In the game, these refineries are ran by electricity. In the real world HYBRIT uses hydrogen for the heat needed to smelt the iron. So the SE refineries combine both the heat of the blast furnace, and the electricity that is often used in electric arcs furnace. Mined iron ores are turned into iron ingots, that then get fed into assemblers to be turned into parts. For armor, the key components are steel plates and metal grids.

Let me illustrate;

Space Engineers Process

Iron ore > Refinery (electric, from renewable and/or hydrogen sources) > Iron Ingot > Assembler > Parts

HYBRIT Process

Iron ore > Blast Furnace (hydrogen heat) > ingots/liquid metal > electric arc furnace (electric) > Parts (rolling mills, forging, etc)

Considering I power my refineries in game with solar and hydrogen generators, the two processes are really similar. Both processes use hydrogen and electricity to create a final steel product, and so it is easy to argue that ‘green’ steel is present in Space Engineers. My steel plant also has solar panels, and solar powered steel mills are coming online in the real world. The ideas behind green steel and renewable energy behind my in-game steel factory.

Inside one of my steel plants in game.

Composite and spaced armor is not all that different from modern tanks and battleships, or fictional vehicles like Battlemechs and the Normandy from Mass Effect. In fact, the spaced armor of the Normandy’s ‘scaffolding’ is the entire idea I used for my work in progress, an industrial frigate.

Industrial frigate, so much alloyed (nickel, cobalt, iron) steel. (plus spaced and scaffold armor)

Wrapping this all up, I think we can create a truly ecological sustainable civilization, and I love how this can be modeled in games like Space Engineers. No, I don’t think sustainable and space-faring are mutually exclusive. We can, and are, making steels in ways that nearly eliminate harmful emissions. We can create a civilization run on green technologies like wind, solar, and hydrogen, and we can use this technologies to chart a path to the stars. The Space Shuttle program used hydrogen fueled thrust after all. Plus, if we ever are to figure out fusion, a robust hydrogen production chain will be needed.

Or, there could be weird bug devices 3D printing parts from molten metal…

I will continue to believe that a better world is possible, and that green steel and hydrogen may well be parts of that future. Plus, it makes really sweet armor for space piracy… er… I mean completely legitimate salvage operations.

As always,

Thanks for reading!


Armor Up! – A nerd post

Hello again folks!

As many of you know, during the winter months this blog is on hiatus. That is usually because I spend the long, cold months working on longer writing projects. Currently I’m really trying to get the second draft of my animism book done. It’s been a special kind of challenge, but hopefully come spring it will be close enough to ‘good enough’ where I can start thinking about publication.

I’m also doing a little bit of mentoring, and working away on some other home projects. There is a lot of work in progress, and come this spring I’m going to be trying to make my own bricks, and my own iron and/or steel. What can I say, I’m a busy person, and I look forward to talking more about those projects in the future. Who knows, may I’ll have to make one of those YouTube things and show you.

All that aside, I want to get into the meat of what I want to talk about today; armor. As many of you know, I’m what they call a nerd. I get… really passionate and like do deep dives on many of my interests. As both an avid gamer, sci-fi reader/writer and a blacksmith (among many of things), I get really really involved in projects that involve things like metallurgy, costuming, and world building. Well… today is a ‘just for fun’ post about all those things.

In many ways, my metalworking journey started out with a small suit of ‘armor’. I had no idea what I was doing, all I knew was that I had some sheet metal, a hammer, and some spray paint. It ended up being an ugly little breast and back plate, but damn if I wasn’t proud of it. Suffice to say, I’ve come a long way, at least in the cosplay department. We’ll be talking about Horizon: Zero Dawn later in this piece, but for now, here’s the Aloy costume we built for my wife.

(Aloy Costume on the rack, aluminum, foam, canvas and leather build. No, the chainmail isn’t technically part of this build, but it looks cool.)

As a general outline for this post, I want to lay down some guidelines. I’m going to be talking about both fictional worlds as well as real worlds technology. I want to explore some of the overlaps in technology, and how those might play in more fictional settings. I’ll be reviewing three games and settings that are near and dear to my heart, and through each a little about real world armor and technologies. Buckle up, we are going for a ride.

Battletech – Mech Armor

First up, the Battletech universe. If you are unfamiliar with this setting, I’m sorry. I can’t express the joy this setting has brought me over the years. While I’ll confess to never really playing the tabletop games, I’ve been playing the video games since Mechwarrior 2. I’ve ran with Clan Wolf for years, and these days make my living as freelance, trying my best to get away from the eugenics-inspired psychosis of the Clanners.

Just for the record, I stomp Draconians and Capellans for funsies. Because they’re assholes.

The core of the Battletech universe is the battlemech. Think of giant stompy robots between about 20 and 100+ tons. Also, lots of lasers and missiles and other forms of kaboomite to make things fun. Obviously, to protect from all that kaboomite, ‘mechs are come with various weights, types, and styles of armor.

(Image from Sarna, mech armor composition)

Battlemechs broadly are composed of an internal metal skeleton (endo-skeleton), a fusion engine, electric ‘muscles’ called myomer, and finally the armor mounted on mount points attached to the skeleton. Plus various electronics, computers, motors, gyroscopes, heatsinks and everything else needed to make stompy robots go stomp stomp.

Going to the wonderful resource that is Sarna, the standard ‘mech armor is ablative, and what is called a composite armor. This is several layers of different materials that offer protection to the vital components and the pilot within. The standard composite armor is three layers of 1) steel/titanium alloy 2) cubic boron nitride ceramics and 3) a titanium alloy honeycomb to hold it all together. Plus as sealant on the back in case you want to go swimming or floating around in space.

Keeping things as brief as I can, there are a lot of variants on this basic recipe in the game universe. Decades worth of variants. In fact, it should come as no surprise there is a reason in game armor foundries and metalworks so often succumb to… explosive fates.

The fact I find interesting is that ‘mech armor in the Battletech universe is not all that different from some modern tank armor. Many contemporary main battle tanks use layers of different materials to protect themselves from damage. While these materials are limited by real world technology, main battle tanks often use combinations of steel and ceramics, as well as a wide range of other materials including depleted uranium.

Homogeneous steel armor, left, vs composite armor, right (Sources from Jackal Mountain video)

Why do we care about tank armor? Well, I for one think all the metallurgy and engineering that goes into it to be fascinating. Let’s just enjoy the technical aspects, okay? In addition, I think a little knowledge of composite materials is really useful for crafting projects, such as the Aloy cosplay above. That’s technically a composite armor, using different materials for strength and weight savings.

You’d definitely die in that Aloy armor, just saying. It’s cosplay, and fiction only takes us so far. Moving on!

Mass Effect, Personal and Ship Armor

Alright, the next armor I want to talk about is the Mass Effect series. Honestly one of my favorite sci-fi universes, just for being wonderful in so many different ways. Gushing over Mass Effect would make this post waaay too long, so let’s get into it. First up, the armor for most of the characters in the game.

N7 Armor – Mass Effect

Looks great doesn’t it? Straight out of the in-game Codex we get this discussion of the personal armor in the game;

Combat hard-suits use a dual-layer system to protect the wearer. The inner layer consists of fabric armor with kinetic padding. Areas that don’t need to be flexible, such as the chest or shins, are reinforced with sheets of lightweight ablative ceramic.(Mass Effect Wiki)

Now, the outer layer is the kinetic barriers, the ‘shields’ in the Mass Effect universe. We are glossing over that part as we don’t have anything comparable in real life. However kinetic padding, fabric armor, and hard ceramics plates are very similar to the construction of modern body armor. Modern armor often uses combinations of materials like kevlar and ceramic (boron carbide, silicon carbide, and others) for bullet resistance. In short, that N7 armor might actually offer good protection. Well, excepting things like Reaper weapons…

The Normandy (SR1)

The ship in the universe are also armored, and here is the description from the in-game Codex

A warship’s kinetic barriers reduce the damage from solid objects, but can do nothing to block GARDIAN lasers, particle beams, and other forms of Directed Energy Weapon (DEW). The inner layer of warship protection consists of ablative armor plate designed to “boil away” when heated. The vaporized armor material scatters a DEW beam, rendering it ineffectual.

A scaffold was built around the interior pressure hull, with sheets of ablative armor hung from the structure. Ships typically have multiple layers of armor separated by empty baffles, spaces often used for cargo storage.(Mass Effect Wiki)

The description of in-game ship armor most closely resembles modern day spaced armor schemes. It is armor with two or more plates with empty space in between. The idea being that any projectile, or directed energy weapon, has to get through several layers before reaching the important bits. Like tank and ‘mech armor above, these different layers can be composites and made up of different materials as well.

Even in the Codex, these empty spaces don’t always have to be empty. If you check out some of these resources below, there are many examples of cargo, fluids, air, or other materials placed in those spaces. Some of these materials can offer extra protection, such as water or other fluids as in World War II era battleships. Check out the New Jersey armor scheme.

Battleship NEw Jersey armor scheme

Know that in Mass Effect lore those empty baffles could also be filled with illicit alcohol distilleries. In case you ever wondered what to do with a drunken sailor….

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Eep! Thunderjaw!

Last but not least, and bringing us around full circle, is Horizon: Zero Dawn. We are less than a month away from the release of Forbidden West, and there are so many things I absolutely love about this world! Again, I don’t have the word count to gush as endlessly as I’d like, so let’s get right into it.

In the lore of HZD, the Metal World has ended, and Aloy now inhabits a world filled with machines. These machines have many different roles and duties, but the most dangerous ones are definitely heavily armed and armored. A chief part of the game is combat and hunting these machines. In fact, throughout the game many character armors include pieces from the machines.

I’ve hunted a lot of these machines, and I mean a lot, and in many ways they have a lot in common with ‘mechs, aside from parts of the skeletal structure. Going to the Fandom Wiki;

The machines of the terraforming system take inspiration from animal biology, primarily from vertebrate species . The typical machine design features a chassis composed of darker alloys, synthetic skins, and fiber-optic cables, with lighter alloys serving as armor plating for vital components and synthetic muscles (Horizon Zero Dawn wiki)

I love that these machines imitate biology, an idea known as biomimicry. It really hits home in the game that many of the animals that the machines imitate are in fact extinct. The chassis in game seem to be combinations of internal and external skeletons, with many of the softer ‘guts’ and ‘muscles’ attached these these structures. Much like the myomer of Battletech. There is a really cool video about the machine’s design in the resource below!

On top of all this is the armor, which like all the games above seems to ablative. That is probably why it flies off when hit with arrows or explosives. This armor also shows trait of spaced armor, generally with a gap between the plates and the important chassis components. We don’t know the exact composition of the armor plates, but they are presumed to be metallic and maybe steel. After all, the are formed in massive foundries and assembly areas within the Cauldrons.

One of the many foundries you see in various Cauldrons

In addition, I do think there is a case to be made for composite armor as well. When you look closely (after removing) at plates such as those from the Bellowback, they have honeycomb structures on the back. These could be evidence of ceramics, or over materials to help absorb damage or shock. If they are made up of combinations of metal and ceramics these machines certainly have a lot in common with ‘Mechs, and thus a lot in common with many real world combat vehicles as we’ve already covered.

I’d forgive you for mistaking the Thunderjaw for a battleship. Just saying.

However, when playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, you’re Aloy. She wears the best armor of them all, plot armor.

Thanks for reading!

Honorable Mentions

Space Engineers video game – because you can make your armor however you want. I look forward to creating more Mass Effect inspired spaced armor.

The Expanse – Another universe that broadly uses spaced armor and metal/ceramic composites for armor. Also, carbon silicate plating. Shhh, the Laconians might hear you…

Sources/Resources;

Drachinifel, evolution of battleship armor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoEFjl0buiM

Battleship New Jersey, another take on battleship armor, included the New Jersey https://youtu.be/aqh4F7l4nKc

Video about tank composite armor (CW, only the first couple minutes is about composite armor, the rest is gun range tests) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwJK99uL1qY

Tex Talks Battletech on youtube, in case you need “whiskey soaked snark” with your Battletech. Second best resource in my opinion, second only to Sarna.net

Sarna.net – the best Battletech resource

https://masseffect.fandom.com/wiki/Codex/Ships_and_Vehicles#Weapons:_Ablative_Armor

https://masseffect.fandom.com/wiki/Codex/Weapons,_Armor_and_Equipment#Body_Armor

https://horizon.fandom.com/wiki/Machine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SouKbbE2eVs – HZD Machine Design