I have come to the end of my two and a half years of Kelley Harrell’s Spirited Path Intensive, through Soul Intent Arts. This intensive covered various topics in coursework and experiential teaching, all of which revolved around animism and an animistic worldview. I have to admit it has been a heck of a ride, and it has given me the opportunity to really flesh out my own ideals and beliefs. It has been a great experience, and Kelley has been an exceptional mentor.
But now I have reached the point where I need to sit with and reflect on not only what I have done, but also what comes next. That is the purpose behind this post. A little bit of reflection on my part. As this is a pretty personal post, it may jump around a bit. I’m just going to go with wherever the flow takes me.
I wrote this at the time I started with the Intensive, and it really speaks to where my journey into animism began.
“Somewhere along the line, I became an animist and that was when everything really took off. It was around the time I read Graham Harvey’s book, Animism: Respecting the Living World. How he defined animism in that book really clicked for me; “The world is full of people, most of which are non-human, and life is lived in relations to others.” That became the foundation for my practice, and all kinds of things started to fall into place. For me, the understanding that I wasn’t just dealing with rocks, or trees, or energies, but with people; that really hit home for me. So I started focusing on those relationships, and somewhere along the way started to bridge that divide between animism and shamanism. That I wasn’t just living in a world full of people, but that I was actively mediating between them, between our worlds and theirs.”
That kicked off the long series of events that eventually lead me to the Intensive, and the subsequent work that followed. It covered a lot of territory, and I want to just talk about some of that here.
I think one of my favorite portions of the classwork was getting to really sit with and experiment with how cosmology looks from an animistic worldview. I got to draw in a lot of inspiration from science and from old myths and folklore to really establish a cosmology. For me, that cosmology is rich in stars and trees, because of course it is! We all come from the stars, and several cultures throughout history thought the same. Through generations of stars forming and dying, the elements of our very existence were built up. It is what made the planet Earth possible, what made biology and our very being possible. In addition, even before the Intensive work, trees were central to how I related to the world around me. I lived my childhood in the forest, and that has continued well into adulthood. I love trees, and forests. So I was drawn to old ideas such as Yggdrasil, and other forms of the World Tree such as the Shaman’s Tree. While I don’t adhere strictly to a Three-Tiered cosmsos (as reality is messy), I do enjoy the Tree as a metaphor, and the connections between Land, Water, and Sky (and Stars).
If anything, the cosmology I shaped for myself became a bit of a “map to the territory”, which bridges the physical world with the spiritual world, and with the narratives that surround all that. It gives me a “you are here” way to look at myself in relationship to the Cosmos, and my place within it. This isn’t dogma, but hopefully something that can shift with time as my life experiences come to inform it in new and different ways. In no small way, the writings I have been doing lately about the väki, the spirit folk, have been a reflection of that cosmology. A way to inform and frame my here and now, and my relationships with the natural world. With the Trees and Stars, and everything in between!
To me at least, animism and practicality are inseparable. Going back to the very dawn of our species, many indigenous cultures have spiritual worldviews that speak to a deep function and day to day knowledge. Where does the food come from? Where shall we find game? What plants are good to eat? How do we maintain fertility for those plants and animals? That is what I love about animism, because at the end of the day it has to WORK. In the words of one of my other mentors, “does this make the corn grow?”. It doesn’t help that I have what is often called an “engineers” personality, that really lives practical things and applied science. This creates for me an animism where daily rituals help to water plants, and bring nutrients to soil, and live a more sustainable and less impactful like. That animism looks like small clay shrines in a family forest, or small shrines under solar panels. That is what my animism looks like, and Kelley’s Spirited Path really helped me to flesh that out, as a way of relating to the living Earth.
Which is a great bridge to the next aspect I refined and shaped for myself over the course of the intensive. I have found and revisited that I am more naturalistically, more nature oriented in my belief and practice. I am a science fiction writer, so it comes as no surprise that I love science, and how it helps to understand and relate to the world. It gives me inspiration for stories, and things like ecology gives me reasons to have rituals and other acts that help to preserve and conserve the natural world. That can be a real act of service, such as volunteering to take care of trails and nature areas. I love working with land, biking, hiking in forests, kayaking, and all those fun outdoorsy things. My animism looks to nature, and to ancestors as foundations of my practice. This does not mean my animism is atheistic, in fact it certainly has room for polytheisms. Moreover, it just means I like looking for forest gods and river spirits, more than devotional practices. Or put another way, the old cliché of the forest is my church, and being outdoors is my devotion. Whether you call it ecology, animism, Gaia Hypothesis, or Planetary Systems Science, I like to think we are talking about the same thing. Again, the intensive helped me to refine and shape that view.
Values and Ethics
One of the biggest things I got out of the intensive was the ability to articulate my ethics and values in a very clear way. In short, animism brings to me the understanding that on the widest scale, we have to understand our impacts and relationships. There is no such thing as no impact, every step, every breath has an impact. The fact of the matter is, our relationships are making life impossible on the planet. This means that we have an obligation to do the best the we can for not only ourselves, but for biosphere and the living planet. This brings with it a value for life, and an ethical duty to the well being of others. We have the ability, and with that comes the responsibility, to create a system that does the best it came for everyone. This implies taking Anthropogenic Climate Change head on, and doing the work it takes to create something like that. We have to ask ourselves the question of what that looks like, and start to make the huge transformations of the world system that need to happen.
I ended the Intensive having to do a kind of purpose statement, that really defined my skills and how I am going to approach my work going forward. Now, I have to say that I am still figuring out what that work will actually look like going forward, but I still wanted to share the statement I came up with at the end of the Intensive. Below is an edited and shorter version, to be more appropriate to this post.
My work revolves around the intersection of animism and ecology, at the crossroads where science, storytelling and spirituality meet. I offer a wide range of services, most of which are involved in shaping stories and the creation of artifacts. I am a fiction writer, author, crafter, metalsmith and outdoorsman. I provide a wide range of arts and crafts that have practical as well as spiritual purposes.
I work with a wide range of materials, from wood, clay, steel, to the written word on the page. All of this is pursued with respect for ecology, justice, and sustainability as a foundation; working in the least impactful ways for people and the planet. Animism is about relationships, and maintaining healthy relationships with the communities and the planet is a core value of what I do.
My work is centered around my local ecology, around the Great Lakes region, and the land known as Michigan. I am an avid hiker, hunter, bicyclist, and kayaker of the lands and waters. Sustainable relationships with that bioregion is the core of my work, and the center of my spirituality, which is a virulent mix of animism, science, folklore, and skill.
I find it appropriate that this post would begin with some of my first thoughts entering the Spirited Path, and would end with some of the last. It’s an odd feeling, to be at the end of this, well at least the nominal end. This work doesn’t stop, not this in this lifetime. Because animism is a worldview, a way of relating to the world. That doesn’t stop, even as one page turns and another chapter begins.
I admit, I look forward to the coming days with a mixed sense of trepidation and purpose. I’m not sure what all that looks like just yet, but there is still plenty to explore, so that is exciting. All the same, I feel like I stand on firmer ground now, a foundation on which to build.
For that, I am immensely grateful.
As always, thanks for reading!