Hello again folks,
You may notice that I am using less images, sometimes none at all, in my blogs these days. Most of this is due to time constraints on my part. It is easier for me to just type out a post than it is to search around for a fitting or ‘perfect’ image. Other times it is because I have very rural internet that isn’t great, and uploading images is a pain. Another part it is just the changing nature of my work. I’d rather let the words speak for themselves, instead of fighting with images. Plus, the ads. They always mess up my formatting. Please buy whatever they are trying to sell you so I can retire. (I do not get paid for this, I’m just being facetious.)
As to the changing nature of the work, I find it is easier for me to write these blogs more like journal entries than how I use to. I just don’t have as much time to hunt down sources and cite things all the time. I still will when I need to of course. It’s just that really gets in the way of things sometimes. In addition, there is the point in one’s path where it just gets harder to convey everything in the written word. Writing has it’s limits; trust me on this as a published author. Sometimes the words don’t do justice, and sometimes the experience defies easy writing or simple images.
The last is really what I want to talk about. Recently, there was some writing circulating around the pagan blogs that touched a lot on theology as a focus. The more I thought about it the less it felt like it ‘fit’ for me. I can see how this would make more sense for more hardcore polytheistic folks, or god-centered folks, but for me it just felt like a jacket several sizes too big, and too small simultaneously. It just wasn’t a good fit.
So, as is my habit, I pondered this when I went for a walk in my family woods. The forest is the place I learned, and continue to learn animism and ecology. Two parts of my spiritual path. It is the place I will return to time again. My path is built around meditation and contemplation, and I find a soft walk in the woods to facilitate that. Forest bathing is a thing, and I find such walks to be cleansing, refreshing, and a great way to focus. To walk in the woods, it gives me the option to just breath and slow down.
For me, cosmology fits a little better than theology, though you could definitely say the two are deeply intertwined. Cosmology speaks to my understanding of the world, as well as my relationship to the spiritual. It is how I orient myself in a larger full of persons human and other-than-human (OTH). In world full of spirits, being that could certainly be called gods, and all sorts of other beings; it is easier to understand that through a worldview, a map, than it is through a theology. Or perhaps, one flows from the other.
For me, this was exemplified by a recent walk in the woods. This walk brought into focus for me a little of what I am trying to convey. It wasn’t by default about Them, the spirits of the place. I wasn’t concerned about the nature of the gods. I don’t worry about that as much anymore, because I’m definitely more on the naturalistic side of things. The spirits are the forest, the swirls of matter and energy around me, the earth under my feet, the trees all around me, the breath in my lungs. Animism after all comes from latin roots for “life, breath, spirit”, and sometimes it helps me to take that literally. In the forest I am surrounded by the breath of the trees, the life of place. All around me.
That’s important, that I’m embedded in that life system. Like ecology and animism, cosmology speaks to me about my connections to others and how I orient myself in the world. It’s about relationships, and how I am always part of something bigger than myself. That’s important too, because we never are alone on an island. Connection to something, some being greater is at the heart of my spirituality. We are always in a social environment, enmeshed in social and ecological systems much bigger than ourselves. Eventually, we come to the place where we are enmeshed in planetary and cosmic systems, and thus, cosmology again. But admittedly, also theology, since in some ways my animism is partly pantheistic. That at least, there is some element of the sacred in all things.
Because, that is another thing the forest has taught me. As I walk along I am walking on and through the ‘mind’ of the forest. The vast network of underground fungi and roots that are traded nutrients and singles. The air around me is full of chemical messages and vaporized water that are just as essential to the system as are the roots. They all feedback into the other, and around me is a vast network full of information. Much of that information is being processed in some way. By the trees to make decisions about blooming, by the animals for when it is time to to breath. That is the mind of the forest, the spirit of the forest, and the cosmology that connects me to it all.
In Norse folklore, the hugr is a part of the spirit. The some total of our mental processes; our thoughts, feelings, and desires. Our personality in a nutshell. The nearest Finnish equivalent is one’s itse, your self and personality. The holistic measure of your person, your thoughts and experiences. Like Odin’s ravens; Huginn (notice the root) and Muninn, thought and memory.
When I walk through the woods that’s what I encounter. The breath of the forest, the mind, the memory, and the spirit. The OTH personhood of that woods, and for that moment, I am part of it. Part of the spirit of the forest. Walking on generations of dead that form the topsoil, layers upon layers of earthen memories and mineral experience, all bound up in living rings of trees that record another text. What is remembered lives as the saying goes, and the forest remembers in very real and physical way, and also in a very spiritual way. It’s amazing how many times those two are one in the same.
That’s also the nature of extended cognition, and what it means to be embedded and entangled. We are social and natural creatures enmeshed in networks endless networks that are extensions of the whole of the cosmos. We gather around a fire with friends, and for a moment share a communal spirit mind in which everyone is a member. When I talk a walk in the forest I share in the communal spirit of the woods, and for a moment make up an experience in time and place. Maybe the conditions will be just right that one of those footprints get fossilized in stone, a memento of my passing. But I doubt it, and some day I will pass away and go back into the soil, and even there are the dead remembered.
In no small way the thick black earth is the memories of the dead feeding the living, and the living feed the dead. We cycle through matter and energy and are never created nor destroyed, but endlessly change form. We are part of the living experience of the earth now, and someday we become a memory. We are never truly lost in that way, and all of our material selves will come back as something else. The layers of forest topsoil under my feet contain countless skeletons, and I take some joy in the fact that I am part dinosaur.
Cosmology for me is about relationships, and about that connection to something greater than ourselves (which might be theology as well). Animism is the practice that connects me with the forest, the history, and the wider world as a member of the human race. A living being that for the moment can record his memories in the vastness of this internet, and in a way another kind of mind that wraps the Earth. Someday, maybe this is all there will be of me. Weird meandering thoughts of a hopefully sane person.
That likes to walk in the forest.
As always, thanks for reading;