Animism and Community

I guess I will start with updates. A great deal is going on right now, and I am not inclined to say anything about most of it. The writing and spiritual work has slowed. Anything beyond the day job really has slowed. There are just other things I have to focus on at the moment.

At the same time, I have not posted a blog in over two weeks. I am behind schedule, so this post is my attempt to hash out something, at least for something to follow up with later.

This post is my own reflections on a piece I read over at patheos. The link is below. I wanted to compare and contrast the author’s view, with my own. I come from an animistic worldview, and to me at least, it is a reasonable explanation of the world and my place in it.

I will start with my scientific disclaimer. I reject wholly the idea that science is the only method to knowledge. Notice I did not say “truth” or “real.” I find that both these things are much more matters of perception than any kind of irrefutable objective fact. What is real and true for one person is not so for another. There are many paths to knowledge, many methods and many ways to understand the world. Science is but one. Don’t get me wrong, I do think science is a good method, but it is not the only one. Science does not have all the answers, and I do not think it ever will. As a method, science is just ill-equipped to handle certain questions.

That being said, Keith Parsons, the author of the article over at Patheos, advocates for a pantheistic worldview. In his own words; “A modern-day paganism would have a pantheistic worldview. Pantheism regards the cosmos itself as the only object commensurate with our capacity for awe and wonder.”

In addition he adds; “Pantheism explicitly rejects any notion of the supernatural or the transcendent, and instead regards the sacred as natural and immanent. It repudiates the idea that there is a non-physical reality “behind” or “beyond” the universe.

Let’s put this another way. Even with all its problems, I turn to wikipedia for a less nuanced definition; “Pantheism is the belief that the universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent God. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.” I am not saying this represents the view of all pantheists, or even the view of Parsons, I only add it for understanding purposes. I am not a pantheist, so I will not weigh in on such matters. Nor do I wish this post to take any form of straw-man argument.

The truth is that the two philosophies are pretty close, with some differences. I too, generally reject the notion that there is any kind of “supernatural” or “transcendent” entities in the universe. Only because I agree that the sacred is natural and immanent. Spirits are not something that are “out there.” The spiritual is within nature, and so too, are spirits. Parsons says; “Pantheists reject the idea of sacred supernatural persons and instead find the sacred in nature and in the experience of deep connections with other sentient beings.” I would add that such sentient beings are not necessarily physical or even human.

Thus, how I conceive the world is similar to how wikipedia puts it; “Animism is the worldview that non-human entities (animals, plants, and inanimate objects or phenomena) possess a spiritual essence.” And more to clarify; “Animism encompasses the belief that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in some other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows. Animism thus rejects Cartesian dualism.” As do I, as there is no separation between mind or body, or spirit for that matter.

This really gets to the heart of my own beliefs, and my departure philosophically from Parsons. To me, there is no separation of the physical and the spiritual. My body is as much part of my spirit as my mind. If I were to, say, chop off a finger, that is a variety of spiritual-loss. Same if part of my mind were to malfunction. In short, my conceptions of spirit encompass both the physical as well the spiritual, matter and energy.

In addition, I think that consciousness imbues the world at all levels, from quantum on up. It is then a matter of relations and interconnectedness, the communion of the individual and the collective. As such, just because I think all things have some level of consciousness, does not mean that all such consciousness’ are the same. I am a discrete, bounded consciousness. Same for my wife, as well as my cat on the table.

The little bastard is not supposed to be on the table.

Parsons also says; “It follows that pagans reject the idea of a non-physical spirit, mind, or soul. Souls are needed only if brains are not enough, just as God is needed only if nature is not enough.” Here we disagree once more. It is not at all that my brain is not enough, it is that I am more than just my brain. The world is far more complicated than just what we can sense or measure. Nature is enough certainly, but it is way more complex then just brains and flesh.

That is the real core of my worldview, the interrelation and interconnection of things. The complexity and diversity of things. It helps me to be aware of my place in the great networks of life, as well as to treat other things, even if they are not human, with the respect I would show any conscious, willful being. Because that is exactly what they are. My practice is one of communion and negotiation, of debate and disagreement, and finding common ground and working together on a common goal. That is why community is so important, and that leads me to another point.

Parsons says; “Paganism will be non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal, non-institutional, non-authoritarian, and non-evangelizing. There will be no pagan popes, bishops, ayatollahs, caliphs, or rabbis. It should hardly need saying that pagans will respect total equality of the sexes. Pagan leaders will not have the role of enforcing an orthodoxy or imposing authority of any kind. As with any coherent group, there will be a commonality of belief and perspective among pagans, and these will be reinforced by teaching and example. However, pagan belief will not be frozen into dogma or ossified into a creed. Pagans will not seek converts. Their attitude will be one of total tolerance towards any group or persons similarly willing to tolerate them.”

On these points, I am mostly in agreement. Paganism, in its myriad of forms, in incredibly complex and diverse, an interconnection of cultures and worldviews. I do think authoritative hierarchies would be dangerous to the future of paganism. This is not to say that pagans do not need leaders or specialists, because we do. We need people who have knowledge and experience, and are able to help others grow along whatever path they follow. But such people should be treated more like respected teachers or mentors then absolute authorities. Respect is the key here, not orthodoxy or force.

On the evangelism point, I am also in agreement. It is not our place to make converts. However, we do need to available and have the resources to help and mentor those that come in search or in need of our help. Networks of teachers, leaders and students alike that can help one another. Even teachers need help sometimes, and that is why networks are so important.

So that is where I am going to leave this. Perhaps it will facilitate some discussion on the future of pagan communities, or any other kind of discussion.

Sources/References;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheism
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/08/18/towards-a-rational-paganism/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animism

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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