I want to preface this one with the comment from Sarenth on the first part of this series;
” I would like your thoughts on how your relationships with vaettir have changed over the years, what has helped make them successful, what has not, and where you see overlap in terms of spirits in general in regards to the paths you have walked.
I really like that you keep hitting on the idea that not everyone is good at everything. I also like that you noted you lack a god-phone, and that it is not as huge a part of your life as it is for others. I’m looking forward to your writing on your animism, and how that impacts/informs your relationships with the Gods. As a polytheist and an animist I do not feel I can separate the two; the former, to me, is informed by the latter. I’m curious if you have different feelings on this, and if so, what they are.”
I will start with the first part. One of my earliest spiritual experiences was with, for lack of a better word, a wisp. I was out walking as a young boy, I am not sure if I was with a friend or by myself, and I came across a marsh later in the day. It was kind of foggy over the marsh, because the day was a little colder. That is when I saw it, floating out over the marsh. I remember distinctly feeling as if I was being watched, and that “I am not alone” feeling. It made an impression.
An impression that was forgotten during the turmoil that was adolescence. Through hormones and high school, I generally went into book worm mode and acquired my love of reading. It was all about science in those days. I would honestly say I came real close to being an atheist. Yet, I remember the more I traveled (via books) out into the universe, the less meaning my life seemed to have. Through all the biology, astronomy, physics and everything else, I felt more and more disconnected from everything. Thus, I started looking for my spiritual self. I detailed this a little in my last post.
The long and short of this anecdote is, I ended up, figuratively as well as literally, remembering the wisp in my early days. I remembered the sensations, and the impression it left on me. I turned from science to spirituality, and in a way, remembered that there is more to life than all we see. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-science. Much the opposite in fact. It’s just I now think there is more to the cosmos than what we can sense. There is purpose around me, and will, and most of all, meaning. Science does not have a monopoly on all knowledge, it is just one path.
That touches a little on the first part. As to the second, that is no small fish. While I am not a big fan of the crushing debt, I do think it is fair to say that college, perhaps more than anything, where my animism got its start. Before that, I came into this like so many others. Through Wicca (ish) books and such. I started in some ways, without the spirits. I started with spells, charms and rituals involving elements like so many others. Most of these had little in terms of results.
As my anthropology degree progressed, so did my spiritual life. It went from energies, to the negotiation of spirits with will and conscious. Through my degree, I encounter thinkers like Tylor, where the term animism comes from (mostly), and Durkheim with his totems, Frazer and others besides. I studied all kinds of various cultures and beliefs, ancient as well as more modern. This impacted my worldview heavily. I went from treating with energies, to asking favors and building relationships. They were no longer just energies (except in the way all things are), but people, human and non-human alike. There were bird-people, and tree-people, and fire-people and so on and so forth.
This is the big difference between ‘old animism’ and ‘new animism.’ While a lot of Tylor and others work was colonial and imperial, treating animistic practices as primitive throwbacks to a day when man didn’t know any better. New animism gets away from that. From Harvey’s book, which I am rereading; “Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of which are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”
That is the core of what I do these days. For me, as I said in my comment in the last post, gods are included in how I define animism. Polytheism and animism are so closely related to me, I find little use except as a communicative shortcut for the former term. To me, there are divine-persons along with all the others. As far as relations go, this is key as well. It is my opinion that some of divine power comes through relations. While we could debate intrinsic power, say a god/giant versus a mortal, yes one is intrinsically more powerful, I think that more power/influence is derived through networks, alliances and relationships. Think about Christians. Jehovah’s power, especially on Earth, is derived through his network of followers. Same with Odin, and others. Shamans are much the same way, much of their power coming from their networks of spirits.
As far as results go, when I went from energies to spirits, I found an immediate difference. I could communicate my wishes, and had spirits that would listen. Spirits that would run messages, spirits that would mediate. Spirits that argued and made mischief. They ran the spectrum, and it was by no means a one way street. They asked, and do ask things of me as well. I have run messages for them, accepted limits and taboos, returned offerings in exchange for help and blessings. It is quite political in my opinion. More than that, it is relational, and good relations with spirits helps my work, and my results. Something I never got in the early days.
As far as all that paths I have walked, animism is what was missing in the early days. Wicca(ish), Celtic, Druidic, all of them lacked that core foundation. Energy work never worked, at least not for me. Only once I learned (relearned) of that wisp, did things finally start fall together.
All that being said, I wanted to touch on a book list for beginners. Many of the books I had in the early days were “A Complete Idiots Guide” to something or other. I had ones for Paganism, Wicca, Natural Magick and Celtic Wisdom. All of these were very Wicca-centric, setting up the philosophy and rituals much the same way, with various Celtic or ‘Natural’ glosses. I would say good for beginners, but you will likely outgrow them in a year or two.
I also had Celtic Magic by D.J. Conway, and A Wiccan Bible by A.J. Drew. The Conway book is also very Wiccan-esque, with a Celtic gloss thrown over it. “A Wiccan Bible” is a decent book information wise, but it never quite clicked with me.
To be frank, much of what I do is defined from scholarly literature as much as from myths and folklore. My thoughts on this are several. Read the myths and legends as close to the “original” form as possible.
Start with the books if you can acquire them by borrowing or used. Keep in mind they will only take you so far. Most you will outgrow in less than a decade. The costs add up, trust me.
I will highly recommend Graham’s Harvey’s “Animism”, which gives a great survey. Once again, it is pricey. Look for it at libraries, especially colleges or universities.
Most of the books I do have are non-fiction and more on the academic side. But as much as book learning is a good start, I am going to stress experience as well, as well as networks. Practice, practice, practice. In addition, build your networks and find mentors. You do not know everything, nor will you ever. If there is something that interests you, find someone who has experience in that matter. Learn as much as they are willing to teach.
I will probably touch more on that in the next blog. Let me know if any of my readers have questions. It is always good to learn from others (see above point), and I would love some outside insights.