Updates, Struggles, and the Future

Hello again folks,

Spring is already in full swing, as I am already up to my eyeballs in projects for the new year. Doing some construction and some renovation, and all the yard and garden work that comes with the warming of days. Plus the day job has decided to suck up more of my time than usual, so all in all, I’m pretty tired most days. Just mentally and physically exhausted. Sometimes in a satisfactory sort of way, with the knowledge of a job well done. Other days, not so much.

Which brings us to the struggles part of this post. After trying my best, and absolutely fighting with myself, and I can’t say the past winter has been great for longer writing projects. In fact, it has come with a great deal of grief. The pandemic took a lot of things from us; not the least, millions of lives. Normal routines, financial security, jobs, the list goes on and on. It also left us with a great deal of collective trauma. Some of us did our best, accepted that things were gonna be different, and that we had to do our best to keep one another safe. Others chose denial, anger, and political weaponization. Especially for those of us in the US, and our individualized culture, it’s a weird feeling knowing at least a third of the population doesn’t really care if you and yours live or die. Add in the lack of any kind of universal healthcare (especially mental healthcare), and I would wager the US stays scarred from the whole experience for a long, long time.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t come out the whole experience a little more jaded and cynical. With slightly less faith in humanity, in our ability to do the right thing when the chips are down. Moreso, as eluded to above, it seems one of the many things I’ve lost through the last couple years is the… ability/drive (?)… to write long form. I just can’t right now. I lose focus more easily, and it feels like a lot more work than it use to be. I just, don’t have it in me as much anymore. Which as you can imagine, being a writer and novelist, this is a blow to how I see myself as well as a bit of an identity crisis.

I think you might have an inkling of where this is going. I’ll say it outloud; I don’t currently know what the future of this blog looks like. I still have things I want to say, and I’m sitting on a MOUNTAIN of unpublished work, but I don’t currently know what to do with all of that. On the one hand, I’m tempted to just push out what I can onto this blog, and then hang in the towel as that winds down. Maybe another year? On the other hand, my stats are currently booming because ChatGPT is scrapping this blog for material. I don’t consent to this, in any way. Especially if I’m not being cited. I’ve put over a decade into this work, just to have it chewed up and regurgitated by a machine prompted by someone who doesn’t want to do said work.. There is all kinds of complex feelings around that, and another part of me just wants to drop this all here. Ride off into the sunset, and hope I have made some kind of impact with all this work. I have my doubts, but hey, I can dream too.

I don’t know, and just don’t have it in me like I use too. I’m tired, and find this feels more like a chore than something I do for fun. My (limited) energies and attention, just aren’t there in the way they use to be.

I have no desire to leave this blog hanging on such a downer, so I’ll say a little bit of what I’m thinking, and if you have other ideas let me know (Nobody really ever comments on this blog, but the option is there). I’m currently sitting on an ‘Animism’ manuscript, and I’m tempted to just retool it to release as longform blog posts over the course of the next year or so. It’s about 10 or so chapters, so maybe a chapter a month or so. Maybe organize them all under an index on this page at the end. There are also things I still want to say, mostly for myself, but maybe for others too. Political commentaries, bits on spirituality, gaming, whatever I feel like. Those may pop up from time to time as well.

There is also, above and beyond the manuscript, a whole mess of spiritual writing I’m sitting on. Some of you come here for that, so there may be some of that too. Again, let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions on where that might go.

I’m also going to be devoting my limited creative energies to digital art, smithing, and other various crafts that grab my attention. With the Rise of the AIs (and associated stolen work from artists and writers), I don’t know if that work will appear here or not. I’ll be keeping myself busy for sure, but perhaps in a more low key kind of way. Living more of that hobbit life quietly in my garden.

It’s been a journey over the last 12+ years on this blog, but things may be winding down. I’m not done yet, but I do want to say to each and every one of you, thank you so much for being along for the ride. It has meant a lot to me. A lot more than I can put into words for sure. I started all this for me, and still, most of this writing is also for me. It still does my heart good to see people are reading the various goofy shit I thought only I cared about. Again, thanks for that.

So… let’s see where things go in the near future. I’m hoping to find some time for some rest and reflection, and perhaps, just maybe, some new writings too.

As always,

Thanks for reading.


Space Engineers – Ship Design

Hello again folks,

After this post this blog will be on hiatus the next few months while I work on longer manuscripts. I have a new novel and a work in progress I want to spend time on, and it’s just easier without having to blog in the the interim. Winter is the best time for such longer work, and a good time to meditate and reflect on the year gone by.

With that in mind, I wanted to leave you all with another ‘just for fun’ post after all the seriousness of politics and spiritual philosophy. As I’ve talked on the blog before, I’m a big fan of the game called Space Engineers. I really enjoy building, exploration and creative games, and being able to build starships just brings me a lot of joy in life. As such, I want to show all some of how I design and classify ships in Space Engineers.

The Basics – The Ship Design Trifecta

Every ship, in real life, and especially in Space Engineers is a compromise, a trade-off between various aspects that shape the ship to its intended mission. The major trade-offs are armor, firepower, and mobility. These three points make up the design trifecta, sometimes called the Iron Triangle.

Mobility – Mobility is the turning agility and acceleration of a ship. Engines, fuel tanks and gyroscopes take up space, and take up most of the interior space of a given ship. In line with power-to-mass ratios, mobility decreases with increased mass (without adding more engines etc, which also add mass). As such, ships designed for high mobility often sacrifice heavier armor and weaponry.

Armor – Armor is the basic protection of the ship, as well the major component for hull structure and durability. However, it adds mass to the ship, and heavier armors obviously add more mass than lighter armors. Adding mass limits mobility, and so heavily armored ships tend to be less mobile.

Firepower – All the dakka on the ship; turrets, artillery, rail guns, missiles and so on. Firepower tends to add a fair bit of mass, but also takes up a fair bit of space inside (ammo, conveyers, magazines..) and on the outside of the hull. In order to add more bada-boom to any ship, you will often lose some mobility and armor as a result.

I classify my ships primarily in the game by mass and block count. More blocks (guns, armor, engines) generally adds more mass, so larger ships simply mass more. There is some variability of course, as some blocks (such as heavier armor) mass more than lighter armors or interior components. Still, the general rule holds, more blocks = more mass. The other consideration is in-game PCU limits, and the abilities of my admittedly aging gaming PC. I don’t want to cook the poor machine after all, so I probably build smaller than players with higher-end rigs.

With all that in mind, the last note is the game Stellaris. I love Stellaris, and I take inspiration from that game when it comes to ship design. The short version for my purposes is that every ship class in Stellaris is twice the size of the ship class before, starting with corvettes. I use that system for my SE ships. A corvette is a size ‘1’ ship. A destroyer is twice the size, a size ‘2’ ship, and thus double the mass/blocks of a corvette. A cruiser is double the size of destroyer, and so on. Of course, industrial ships don’t always fit this scheme so I’ll talk about those last. Let’s jump into it!

Corvettes and Frigates (Mass: 500,000 – 750,000 kilograms. Blocks: 500 – 750 approx)

Kuutar Class Corvette
Zisune Class Frigate

Corvettes and frigates are the smallest classes of warships I design in Space Engineers. Corvettes are the smaller of the two, with frigates basically being ‘heavy corvettes/light destroyers’. These ships are designed for short range escort and scouting missions. As such, they are usually fleet or station based, and heavily select for mobility above all else. They sacrifice armor and firepower for agility, making them great ships for exploration, raiding and piracy… I mean fighting pirates. Totally legitimate salvage operations….

Destroyers (Mass: 1 million kilograms. Blocks: 1000 approx.)

Etsija Class Destroyer

Destroyers are the gunboats of Space Engineers. They are bigger than corvettes and frigates, and designed to bring extra guns to the gun fight. At the expense of armor and some mobility, these ships select for firepower. As short-medium range ships, they operate best as fleet support or station based operations. They are mobile enough to hunt corvettes, as well as powerful enough to bring the fight to larger ships in limited engagements.

Cruisers (Mass: 2 million kilograms. Blocks: 2000 approx.)

Risteil Class Cruiser

Cruisers tend to be the workhorses of my fleets. They bring a good balance of armor, firepower, and mobility to any operation. In addition, these tend to be the ships I loadout with jump drives for medium to long range tasks. Cruisers gotta cruise. These ships are large enough to operate solo for exploration and patrol, as well as bring smaller support craft along for the ride as group leaders. The balanced nature of these ships makes them a good choice for many different tasks.

Battleships/Battlecruisers (Mass: 4 million kilograms. Blocks: 4000 approx.)

Tuho Class Battleship

Battleships are the largest warships I build in Space Engineers. Their entire purpose is to bring pain to the unlucky sods of the opposing force. Due to their immense size, mobility is out the window and these ships select for maximum armor and firepower. Like cruisers these ships are usually jump capable, but due to their large size and low mobility are best found leading battlegroups that can screen them from smaller, more agile craft. With numerous forward facing railguns and artillery, these ships also excel at breaking bases and fortified stations.

Battlecruisers differ from battleships slightly in that they tend sacrifice some armor for greater mobility while still bringing the same amount of firepower. ‘Fast battleships’ is an apt name for a battlecruiser. These can have thinner hulls, lighter armor, and even make up some the mass in extra engines and gyroscopes for added mobility.

Industrial Ships (Mass and block counts vary.)

I just wanted to note that the above classes are more for warships than for many of the other types I build. For industrial ships, those for welding, grinding or mining, the scheme I’ve outlined here doesn’t really apply. Warships are built around combat, and often have extra armor, redundant systems, extra bulkheads, and avoid empty space (like docks and hangars) where possible. These are critical weak spots in combat. These kinds of guidelines aren’t followed in my work ships, which are set up for different and more varied tasks than warships. So here is a just a few examples of those kinds of ships, and a brief discussion of what makes them different.

Arbeider Class Industrial Frigate

The Arbeider is built on the corvette and frigate designs above, but with slightly lighter armor and less weapons, and more capacity for salvaging, mining and transport. Like with most industrial ships, it tends to be very durable, and honestly this one works alright in corvette and frigate roles. It’s more tailored for short range mining though.

Telakka/Tyolainen ‘Cruisers’/Mobile Bases

These ships are by far the largest in my fleet currently, coming in at around five million kilograms. They mostly serve the role of mobile bases and shipyards. However, it would be a mistake to call them battleships in any meaningful sense. They are fairly well armored and durable in order to withstand the rigors of space industry as well as the occasional ship-to-ship impact *coughs* ahem… They are only defensively armed however, and would not stand up in any kind of prolonged fight. They have jump drives and are meant for deep space mining and construction. Both these ships have refineries, assemblers, as well as open hangars for small ship maintenance. The Telakka in particular is meant to service and maintain a single Arbeider slung underneath in the shipyard area, as you can see above.

I hope you enjoyed me geeking out a bit and showcasing my ships.

As always, thanks for reading! Wish me luck on my hiatus with these bigger projects!


Michigan Politics & Animism – Democracy

Hello again folks,

I am into the part of year where I start focusing on longer projects and this blog goes on a temporary hiatus. There are about three more blogs in the works, and I’m a little bit behind posting this one. There is this post, one coming on the nature of spirits from my perspective, and then a ‘just for fun’ post about Space Engineers, because we will end off on a silly note.

While the bulk of this post was written before the election, it is now being published after the US midterms that took place on November 8th. While this country continues all the failures of a two party system, there were some needed victories in the mix. Michigan passed all three ballot proposals that I talked about in my last post, as well as having a Democratic trifecta at the state level for the first time in about 40 years. That’s a big deal, and I’ll talk about that more later in this piece.

Let’s jump into it today. I have to admit, I struggled a lot with how to really kick this series off. What issues and policy would I talk about? Because the truth of the matter is, a lot of this stuff is intersectional in that many policies have impacts on others. They don’t live alone on separate islands in isolation, they impact one another in real (and sometimes unintended) ways.

As I mentioned in my last post, let’s just get the basics out of the way. I support democracy, I support the idea of governments by the people, for the people. Not dictatorships, not monarchies, not oligarchies… So let’s get basic definitions out of the way. The US is described as both a republic and a democracy; so let’s define those curtesy of Merriam-Webster;

Definition of republic
1a(1): a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president
(2): a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government
b(1): a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law
(2): a political unit (such as a nation) having such a form of government

Definition of democracy
1a: government by the people
especially : rule of the majority
b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
2: a political unit that has a democratic government

There is also a great discussion under “republic” on Merriam-Webster on whether the US is a republic or a democracy. I agree with the ‘both’ definition. We are a republic because our chief executive is not a monarch, and specifically, a president. We are also a government where power resides in the people, and we elect people to represent our interests. This is also the B definition of a democracy, as we elect representatives directly or indirectly. I’ll get more into this in a moment, but I think it is best to refer to the United States as a constitutional republic (the shape of said republic is outlined by a constitiution) AND a representative democracy. (we elect representatives via elections.)

Now, there is a great deal of nuance within both of these concepts and I’d like to explore that more in two specific contexts, the US Federal government compared to the state of Michigan.

Michigan and US Federal Government Comparison

Democracy exists on a kind of spectrum. On one side, there is representative democracy. This should be self evident – in that this is a democratic system in which representatives are elected by the people to make decisions on their behalf. On the other side is various forms of direct democracy, in which the people directly deliberate and vote on decisions and policy. In between the two stands the semi-direct democracy that combines aspects of both.

There are all kinds of variations on these forms, from parliaments to presidential systems to executive councils. I’m not going to cover all those here for brevity reasons.

As such, the US Federal Government, the national government, is a presidential representative democracy. We the people elect the President, Senators and House Representatives to make national level decisions on our behalf. This is not a direct democracy, as we do not directly vote on nor propose legislation.

By comparison, Michigan is a semi-direct democracy. In addition to electing the Governor, Senators and Representatives at the state level (as well as local elections), we also have citizen initiated legislation and petitions. The citizens of Michigan can recall our elected officials, directly propose legislation as well as constitutional amendments or even entirely new constitutions. Michigan has had four constitutions in it’s history, and has been amended many times directly by the citizens. In fact, we just passed in the most recent election all three constitutional amendments, which I have discussed before here. These proposals expanded essential democratic foundations such as voting rights, government transparence, and basic reproductive rights. In addition, the Democratic Party won all three branches of Michigan government, and I’m hoping they pass some policy more in line with what I value.

Why do I mention these things? To illustrate clearly that there are many ways to do democracy, and many ways it might be improved. In addition, when you look globally, you can see countless forms of democracy and governance. Some of those ideas might be better than what we are doing now.

Expanding democracy and the limits of two parties

There a lot of ways I think we could improve and expand on our democracy, and for inspiration I pull from both the US Green Party and the Democratic Socialists of America. I think in many ways Michigan, and even the US, would be a more functional democracy if they looked like Finland, Sweden*, and the EU, respectively. These include elements such as;

  1. Enact proportional representation voting systems for legislative seats on municipal, county, state and federal levels. (Most of Europe uses some form of party lists, that tend to be more proportional.)
  2. Enact Ranked Choice Voting for chief executive offices like mayor, governor and president and other single-seat offices including U.S. Senate. (Alaska and Maine are already experimenting with ranked choice, as are several US cities.)
  3. Substantially expand the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives together with electing the House from multi-seat districts by proportional representation – both by Federal legislation – to help make the House far more representative of the nation’s population and rich diversity. (This would be required under a more proportional system.)
  4. Enact elections by proportional representation from multi-seat districts on federal and state levels, with enough seats in each districts to eliminate the possibility of unfair representation produced by gerrymandering, because in such multi-seat districts, even small political minorities do not waste their votes and are able to elect their fair share of representatives…. Enact federal legislation requiring that Congressional districts be determined by state-established independent citizen-redistricting commissions. (Michigan passed an independent redistricting commission in 2018, and may have resulted in the Democratic trifecta just won in the 2022 midterms.)

The above list is pulled from the US Green Party platform primarily, and is of course edited for brevity. As I have said before, I think the two party system of the US is incredibly limited, in scope and in the diversity of political expression. The EU has about 8 parties in it’s much larger parliament, representing views from the far-left to the far-right, and everything in between. By contrast, Michigan and the US are represented by two parties, both of which are right wing in general, making the mythical us ‘center’ at best center-right. We deserve more diverse and more proportional representation, and I think the points above are good starts for sure.

As far as implementation, both of these would have to happen through constitutional amendment. In Michigan we just passed three, so I can see this being on the ballot for some future election. We are a semi-direct democracy after all. As to the US, I’m less optimistic that such a change will be implemented by either legislation or constitutional amendment due to the constant gridlock and duopoly of the two major parties. I also think the US would benefits from some aspects of semi-direct democracy, but again, that’s probably an impossible longshot of a constitutional change. The vast majority of Americans won’t entertain that notion, and those that do are probably best described as ‘fringe elements’ of the population.

But wait, what does this have to do with animism?! Maybe that is what you are thinking, and where does the ‘wellbeing of persons, human and other-than’ come into play? Well, the well being of humans should be obvious, and I think a robust democracy is necessary to the protection of human rights and well being. Michigan just passed voter rights and reproductive rights into our constitution, that is good an necessary animistic work. In addition, if we wanted to really think about ‘persons’ in an animistic wordlview, we could talk about the rights of nature, and environmental personhood as aspects of a robust ecological democracy too. After all, should non-human voices (or their representatives) be silent in an animistic-inspired democracy? A rhetorical question to be set aside for the moment.

I think I will leave that here, so as always;

Thanks for reading.

Sources/References and notes;

* Sweden is technically a constitutional monarchy, but I refer here more to the multi-party nature of their parliament. I am not promoting monarchy here. Finland is a parliamentary republic with a multi-party parliament, and more closely resembles what I would like to see in Michigan.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/republic

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy

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

https://www.gp.org/democracy

https://www.dsausa.org/dsa-political-platform-from-2021-convention/#deepening


Michigan Politics & Animism – Ballot Proposals

Hello again folks,

As it is the midterm election season, politicing and political ads are all around us right now. As it is ‘in the air’ as the saying goes, I think this is a good opportunity to talk about a handful of issues that are part of that national conversation, as well as on the Michigan ballot.

Unlike the United States national (federal) government, my home state of Michigan has aspects of a semi-direct democracy. Not only do we, the voters, elect officials and representatives; we also can petition and vote on direct legislation, recalls, and even constitutional amendments. This midterm election, we have three such proposals on our ballot, and I want to talk about each of them from my own perspective.

For each of these, I am going to keep each as brief as possible, focusing on the language on the ballot and not on the full text of the proposals. Each proposal is linked for additional information, as well as Google being available to pretty much anyone reading this.

Proposal 1 Legislative Term Limits and Financial Disclosure Amendment (2022)

This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Require members of legislature, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and attorney general file annual public financial disclosure reports after 2023, including assets, liabilities, income sources, future employment agreements, gifts, travel reimbursements, and positions held in organizations except religious, social, and political organizations.
  • Require legislature implement but not limit or restrict reporting requirements.
  • Replace current term limits for state representatives and state senators with a 12-year total limit in any combination between house and senate, except a person elected to senate in 2022 may be elected the number of times allowed when that person became a candidate.

This proposal adjusts Michigan’s term limits, and in my opinion more importantly, requires major political positions report annual financial disclosure statements. This would make publicly available records of how a high office holder is financed from a variety of sources. This kind of disclosure is painfully opaque in Michigan, and it is nice to see efforts to increase government transparency, especially in regards to funding, on the ballot. In Michigan, we still have a looong way to go in regards to making government more transparent. We have a notoriously low reputation in this regard.

Proposal 2 – Voting Policies in Constitution Amendment

This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Recognize fundamental right to vote without harassing conduct;
  • Require military or overseas ballots be counted if postmarked by election day;
  • Provide voter right to verify identity with photo ID or signed statement;
  • Provide voter right to single application to vote absentee in all elections;
  • Require state-funded absentee-ballot drop boxes, and postage for absentee applications and ballots;
  • Provide that only election officials may conduct post-election audits;
  • Require nine days of early in-person voting;
  • Allow donations to fund elections, which must be disclosed;
  • Require canvass boards certify election results based only on the official records of votes cast.

This proposal at it’s heart is the protection and expansion of voting rights and access. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the US democracy is at risk, and is even ranked as a flawed democracy. Feel free to click that link if you want the reasons why. If you’ve been paying attention to events in the US, much of this is self evident and I’m not going to spend the time harping on it again here. Either way, as someone who supports democracy, and voting along with it, as a basic right; this proposal has a lot to recommend itself. Democracy is messy, chaotic, and less than perfect a lot of the time, but I still think placing those rights in the Michigan constitution is a good idea.

Proposal 3 – Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative

This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • Establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility;
  • Allow state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health;
  • Forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment;
  • Invalidate state laws conflicting with this amendment.

This one has been a biggie in the national discussion, especially since the overturning of Roe v. Wade by a very conservative Supreme Court. I’m not gonna mince words here, I entirely support the right to an abortion for anyone that needs it. It’s not my business, and broadly this kind of thing is between a patient and their doctor. Reproductive care is healthcare, and I’d even go a step farther. We can look at the Nordic countries, and I’d also add we should have universal healthcare, childcare, family planning, pre-school and universal education right along with reproductive care. Having a child, and all the potential complications that go with that, should not force a person into poverty. Taking care of parents and children for the public good is something almost every industrial country handles better than the U.S.

These things should be basic rights, something no one should go without. Strangely, in the ‘greatest and wealthiest country in the world’ we can’t seem to figure that out. This proposal is an important first step. I’ll be talking about the other policies in future posts, so I’ll leave this here for now.

As always,

Thanks for reading!


A Michigan Animism – The Grand River and Lake Michigan

Hello again folks,

My wife and I recently got to go on vacation, and there is a lot to consider and write about. Coincidentally, this trip also overlapped with my Michigan Master Naturalist coursework on inland waterways and coastlines, so it was the perfect time to go exploring!

First, a little bit of context. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my home is on the Grand River watershed. This is a large watershed that connects a large section of the west side of this state, and flows through my home city of Jackson, connected with the Red Cedar that flows through MSU (my alma mater), and from there through Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and out to Lake Michigan.

It’s a big one. There is also a great artwork in Grand Haven in bronze of this watershed. Too big for one picture, sadly.

Grand River/Grand Haven

The Grand River is a very important river to me, and a very powerful spirit in their own right. The Anishinaabe people know the river as Owashtanong, the “Far flowing water”. That should be no surprise, owing to the length; the longest river in Michigan.

In addition, this river is deep in part of Michigan’s colonial history. From wikipedia;

“The river formed part of a major demarcation of land ceded by Native Americans enabling U.S. settlers to legally obtain title to land in the area. In the 1821 Treaty of Chicago, the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi ceded to the United States all lands in Michigan Territory south of the Grand River, with the exception of several small reservations.”

My understanding of spirits is in the ‘natural phenemona’ school of thought, in that I think of spirits as the totalilty of complex systems that intersect cultural and natural features. This river spirit has appeared to me in an plethora of ways. As fish racing down the streams, as water cascading over rocks, and of course; at the beautiful confluence where it meets Lake Michigan.

Grand Haven, MI

Grand Haven, MI

Lake Michigan

It is damn near impossible to even begin to describe the majesty of Lake Michigan natural and spiritual sense. It’s just too big, figuratively and literally. Trying to describe the natural features, as well as the deep cultural interconnections of countless indigenous and settler cultures could fill libraries.

According to wikipedia, the name of this Great Lake, and the state of Michigan;

“The word “Michigan” is believed to come from the Ojibwe word ᒥᓯᑲᒥ michi-gami or mishigami meaning “great water”.”

In addition, according to the Decolonial Atlas, it has the following names;

Ininwewi-gichigami (Illinios’ Sea): Lake Michigan

— ALSO AS Mishii’igan (Grand Lake): Lake Michigan

— ALSO AS Mishigami (Great Lake): Lake Michigan

We visited this Great Lake both at Grand Haven, via the state park, and also at wonderful park south of town called the Rosy Mound Natural area. If there was a case to be made for a ‘secular Shinto shrine’ on Lake Michigan, this would be it. It’s a stair heavy trail that takes you through woodlands, and up and over dune lands to a great scenic outlook over the lake. We left our offerings there, and stayed just to take it all in.

Up, up, up the stairs we go. Rosy Mounds Natural Area
The overlook. Great meditative area.
And the view of Lake Michigan from the overlook.

Closing Thoughts

It would take a lot more words, spiritual poetry, art, and other things to really begin to even encompass how these spirits impress upon you in person. I could have stayed in these places a lot more time (and will in the future) to even to understand where to begin… There is so much more work to be done.

These spirits are old and powerful, and trace their ancestries back to the glaciers that shaped this land. This is where the words fail, and all you are left with is the experience. For that, I am grateful.

As always,

Thanks for reading.

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_River_(Michigan)

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

Decolonial Atlas


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