Category Archives: Animism/Shamanism

Pandemics, Permaculture, and Projects

Hello again folks!

There is a lot going on in my own life and in the world at large right now. I’ll be honest, this post is a little more stream of consciousness than anything. There is just some things I want to talk about.  I have took a voluntary furlough from work, and so have had a lot of free time on my hands. Hopefully that only lasts a couple of weeks or so. We are all in the midst of a global pandemic, which is causing all kinds of chaos. So I’ll start there, since it is in the title after all.

Pandemics

Alright, so we have the Covid-19 virus spreading across the globe. In my home state of Michigan we are under a “stay at home” order. This means that non-essential businesses are closed by the order of the governor, and most of us need to stay home unless it is for work or groceries. It prevents the virus from spreading to other people, and especially vulnerable populations. Short version, stay the fuck home and don’t be like Ash.

In addition, especially for those of those of us in the United States, this virus is making the flaws and problems in our system real obvious. In short (as I have a LOT of thoughts about this), the need for universal healthcare and paid time off is apparent as it’s ever going to be. Heck, I think it’s time to talk about working less hours as a society, as well as things like UBI as well.*  We are the only major industrial country in the world that doesn’t provide those things, and we sure as hell can afford it. I mean, Congress just passed a 2 trillion dollar spending bill, with at least half of it as a give away to large corporations. Same kind of thing we did in 2008 when the last recession hit.

In line with this opinion piece, I think this pandemic and crisis is an opportunity to address the failings and flaw in our society. We can start the process of building a more just future by prioritizing people over profit. This is the path I hope we take as a society. In addition, how we handle the Covid-19 pandemic could teach us a lot about how to handle the climate crisis, as they are both global problems.

I think it could also go the other way, such as the Patriot Act in 2001 and the recession in 2008. The trend towards authoritarianism could increase, and big banks and companies get handouts while the working class and the poor go hungry. That’s not desirable, and I much prefer the former to the latter.

In addition, I think this change should ideally come from the bottom up. I’m not going to hold my breath and hope the Trump administration suddenly develops a conscience. That ain’t gonna happen. If we want change, it will have to come from the roots.

Permaculture

“The first idea is that every organism on the earth is intimately and irrevocably connected to every other and to the nonliving elements of the planet. We unite with our environment to form communities and ecosystems, whether we know it or not.” – Edible Forest Gardens, Volume 1

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, about building alternative systems to the one we have now. To building a more just and ecological future. One that places people over profit, and we all enjoy our lives a little more. I’m a bit of a dreamer, I know, but I think it could happen if we are willing to do the work. If you are interested, I’ve been talking a bit about what that looks like over at my Facebook page, Solarpunk Animism. (Plug, plug, check it out!)

We have to entirely transform our society to mitigate climate change; food, land use, energy, transportation, buildings, cities, and materials. We desperately need models to show what that future could look like. Real world practical systems we can copy, paste, modify, and scale to fit our needs. I think permaculture, and especially agroforestry, gives us some examples we can use to redesign our food and land-use systems. I’ve been reading a lot, and making some plans and projects in light of that reading. Here are just a few books that will, some day, be added to my list of recommendations;

There will be a lot more for me to talk about the deeper I get into this, and these books are really animistic in their material. Ultimately, there will be a lot more to explore, especially the interconnections between permaculture, ecology, and animism.

Projects

Leaving that where it is, I wanted to talk a little bit about all the plans and projects I MIGHT get to this year. I say might because, well the pandemic has thrown a lot of uncertainty over it all. That said, I still get to plan for these things, and someday, I hope to get to them. I am the steward of a few acres of land, including my household. Much of it is forests, but some of it was once old farmland. My long term goal is to create a forest on the farmland, and to be a responsible steward of the forest land in my keeping. Again, we are back to the agroforestry thing. Did I ever say forestry was my first love, and originally what I wanted to major in? Alas, transfer credits and finances got in the way…

Anyways, a lot of the projects I’m exploring are somewhat permacultural in nature, and definitely ecologically based. I want to do my part to do better for the planet, and for me that starts with the local natural communities, and the land literally beneath my feet. The expanded goals are manifold, and cover the gamut from food production, to fuel, self-sufficiency, resilience, and carbon sequestration. I won’t have the space to lay out all the details in this post, so I created a fancy flow chart to perhaps illustrate how this is shaping up for me. Some of these projects are already underway (phase 1), others are planned or dependent on earlier projects. (Phase 2, ect). Ha! I made a tech tree!

 

(Phase 1 – Green, Phase 2 – Yellow, Phase 3 – Red. Blue are land systems, ect.)

 

This is getting a bit long already, so I am going to end this post here. There will be a lot more material to come in the future that expands on all of this.

Thanks for reading!

*I only support UBI in ADDITION to a robust social welfare program. Universal healthcare, education, and public services should be part of the package in addition to a kind of universal basic income. That’s the only way it makes sense to me. Healthcare (including child and elderly care), education, and some extra money for food, shelter, and other basic items.


Update 3/22/2020

Hello again everyone!

It has been several months, so I figured I’d check in with you all. It’s good to see my stats have been consistent during my hiatus, and it warms my heart to know you all are still finding value in my work while I spent time away. Thank you!

Crazy times we live in right? As a science fiction writer, (have you checked out my books?), I spend a great deal of time speculating about the future, and what it holds for us. I didn’t expect to spend the first part of 2020 semi-quarantined because of a global pandemic. Didn’t see that one coming… Also considering that the government response has left a lot to be desired, well things a hard for a lot of folks right now. Take care of each other all right? Practice that mutual aid thing, and take care of your most vulnerable. Wash your damn hands, and stay away from people, alright?

But I don’t want to spend to much time on that, it’s a bit of a downer. This past winter has been really hard on me mentally, and frankly I haven’t got a lot of writing done. A change in my day-job schedule was a big part of that too. I sure as hell didn’t get another novel done. I kind of just stepped away and took the winter off. Spent a lot of time resting, and thinking about the coming year. I’ve got a lot on the agenda, that’s for sure!

First, I wanted to announce a new Facebook page I am working on. I struggled with this a lot, on whether or not I wanted to “out” myself as the author of the page, or retain a sense of distance and anonymity. Since this is my biggest platform, and I’ve been doing a lot of posting at the new page (shorting writing is easier for me right now), I want to tell you all about it!

Check out my Facebook page, Solarpunk Animism! It’s an extension of my work here, and I talk about a lot of similar things. The intersections of science, science fiction, and spirituality, and all those exciting things! It’s a great place to ask me questions, and spend a few minutes when you want to read something quick. It’s a small page right now, but feel free to check it out! I’m adding it to my sidebar as well on this blog. I also share a lot of articles and ideas there, so it’s worth your time.

In addition to that, I have a lot of projects coming up this year, written and otherwise. So I want to spend some time talking about that too. I am going to be spending a lot of time “in the field” this year. Or perhaps more accurately in the forest, and the gardens. My wife and I have got a lot of permaculture-ish stuff planned for our yard and gardens, and I am looking forward to that. I’m also looking forward to exploring that work in a more intentional and animistic way; as I see a close connection between gardening, ecology, permaculture, and animism. In addition, I have inherited my family forest now, and I’m looking forward to spending more time out there and seeing what comes out of it.

At the current time, I’m thinking of it all as an extension of the animistic intensive I finished up last year (I have a fancy certificate and everything :D). I want to take all I learned over the past two and half years of that work, and really sit with it and see what comes out. I have a feeling that is going to take place in the garden and forests, and deepening my relationship with the land, lakes, and waters I call home. I’m not sure what will come out of it yet, but I’m excited about it.

We have a lot of house projects too, so I’m going to be doing that. In addition, I am considering doing some writing on practical skills. I know a little about a lot of things as I’m insatiably curious about the world. I want to write about that stuff, blacksmithing, woodwork, clay and ceramics, gardening, forestry and other stuff as well.

I also may work on some short stories, as I said, I’ve been having trouble with longer work. Those will probably be an extension of my novel Liminal Worlds, a kind of solarpunk animism in it’s own right. Maybe some more detailed work on folklore and my personal spirituality as well.

Yet, with both the practical skills and the story writing, I haven’t quite figured out what that looks like. After spending a lot of time thinking about setting up a Patreon to help support myself, I have come to the conclusion I probably can’t maintain that kind of commitment. It’s a lot of upkeep, and I don’t really have that network (I’m bad at marketing myself) to make that sustainable. But at the same time, I want to make something out of it. So many the practical articles and the more in-depth work might be on a pay structure. For example, you send me $5 on paypal, and I send you a pdf. That way I can maintain a list here of the available articles.

That’s all up in the air right now, and I’m not entirely sure what the final form will look like. So I’ll keep thinking about that, and keep you all informed. Alright?

Other than that, there is plans for more work for this blog as well. In light of the pandemic, my employer has offered a little more flexible work schedules, so I am hoping I can get back to regular writing. There is a lot I want to talk about, for sure! It’s just finding the time, and being able to write when inspiration hits me. (The bane of my existence.)

You all take care out there alright? As always, thanks for reading!

 


Frozen II – Thoughts

Hello again folks!

This is one of those pieces that I didn’t really plan to write. Not because it is bad or anything, but that sometimes there are things that really inspire you to write that you never see coming. Such was the case with the recent movie Frozen II. Now, I watch my share of movies, but when Frozen II was originally announced I wasn’t in any hurry to run out an see it. I’ll get to why that changed in a moment.

The fact is, I’m a Disney fan. Yes, I’ve watched the vast majority of the animated movies, and well into the digital Pixar variety as well. Yes, I also know many of the songs by heart. There is no shame in that from where I am sitting, and that is a big part of my childhood memories. There are worse things in the worlds than Disney movies.

I enjoyed the first Frozen, it was a good movie. A good modern retelling of older bits of Hans Christian Andersen tales. It is a fun little story, with some good lessons in it. But I’m not here to talk about the first movie in any depth. It must be said that before I get into that, that this piece contains MAJOR SPOILERS. Seriously, SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to, come back to this piece after you have. I don’t want to ruin it for you.

So what drove me to want to see the second movie? At first I wasn’t really inclined to go out an see it, but then I heard that there was a group of people in the movie called the Northuldra, and they were built with the help of indigenous Sami consultation. That is what changed my mind. Regular readers of my work will realize instantly that I am a strong advocate of indigenous consultation and rights. The Sami are really interesting to me, as are the Norse and Finnish. When I found out that the Sami were involved in the shaping of the story, I knew I wanted to watch it. I think that Disney did a good job with indigenous consultation in Moana, and I wanted to see a story that was a little closer to my own ancestry and spiritual path.

I’m really glad I did, because there are huge intersections with many of the things I talk about on this blog. Animism for sure, but also indigenous rights, nature, complex systems, and even environmental sustainability. There are a lot of layers to the story, and I want to spend some time unpacking them. They added a lot of subtle richness to the storytelling, and I want to dig into that a little more.

It makes sense that we would start with the animism. As I have said many times before, animism is founded on relationships, to each other, and to nature. There was SO MUCH of this present throughout the film. From the Relationships between Arrendelle and the Northuldra, to the Northuldran (inspired by the Sami) connection to nature. Much of the magic in the movie, included Elsa’s own, is based on a relationship to nature. It is tied into the health of the forest and the waters, and many of the supporting characters are in fact nature spirits. There is Gale, a wind spirit. The Water Horse, which has many corollaries in Celtic (kelpie) and Scandinavian (nykk) folklore. There are also the earth giants, and of course, Bruni the fire salamander.

The ‘four elements’; earth, air, water, fire, are present in some form in a lot of worldviews and indigenous religions. There are also aspects of modern strains of paganism and even my own animistic practice. Salamanders such as Bruni are commonly associated with fire, and I found it to be a good nod towards that bit of folklore. In many ways, the animism presented throughout the movie had a lot of Last Airbender feel to it, about bringing balance back to the world, between humans and nature. It was in fact, central to the plot.

Just as central to that same plot was the Northuldra people themselves, which are based on many Sami traditions. The shape of their houses are inspired by traditional Sami forms, the magic in the story by forms of Sami animism and shamanism. And then there are the reindeer….

(Sven)

Reindeer husbandry and hunting is a traditional Sami occupation that continues right down to this day. Because the Sami like many other indigneous groups are living, contemporary people. They have had encounters with others cultures (sometimes with disastrous consequences), and have many issues with colonial governments that are still very real and present. Even some of that is presented in the movie, which I will come back to in a bit.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie was the presence of Water, as both a supporting character as the Water Horse, and as an essential aspect of magic and the livelihood of the Northuldra. Theirs land and way of life were put at risk because of the presence of the dam, because the ‘waters of life’ were blocked. The symbolism of all this cannot be ignored, nor can the connection between Standing Rock and the slogan that Water is Life. Water rights issues are common among many indigenous groups, and the dam itself cannot be ignored. In fact, dam building is often a threat to indigenous peoples, even to the Sami, which have resisted many dam projects proposed by Scandinavian governments.

(Hoover Dam, from Wikipedia)

I found the dam, and it’s final fate, as imposing as the actual structure. But there was another aspect of Water that I found just as powerful. The idea that water has memories is strong throughout the movie, as well as that water is life. The Water Horse stands in just as easily as guardian as well as guide. Also, Olaf’s existence and ultimate resurrection is chalked up to the idea that water has memories. This is not just a convenient story telling device, but a trait of complex systems, including water systems. Rivers ‘remember’ previous routes in riverbeds, as well as changes over time. The same is true of lakes and oceans, and even things like bacteria and chemicals in rain. Complex systems such as water cycles keep ‘records’ of their past, and memories of land and ecosystems are not just symbolic in this sense. This idea is deeply interwoven throughout the plot.

Another idea deeply interwoven all through the story in Frozen II is the idea of ancestry. Elsa is driven by the need to know about the source of her magic, and the mysterious singing voice she keeps hearing. This drive takes her and Anna to the lands of the Northuldra, and eventually the revelation that her mom was in fact Northuldran. This explains the source of her magic, as it literally, runs in the family. It also comes with the revelation that the sisters’ own grandfather was the one who betrayed the Northuldra, and also built the dam that denied them their power.

The ancestral part of the story deeply resonated with me, because Anna and Elsa are children of two worlds through their ancestry. Both of them are Northuldran, as well as Arrendelleian. This actually plays out in the story, as Anna goes back to Arrendelle, while Elsa remains in Northuldra. The connection to shamanism is important here, as through the sister’s two worlds are bridged once again. Both facilitated this in their own way, Elsa, by reclaiming her connection to her ancestry, and Anna, by her role as eco-warrior in the destruction of the dam.

The plot in this way is also a story deeply interconnected with the ideas of colonization, Arrendelle building the dam and denying the Northuldra their power and connection to nature. It also presents a bit of decolonization story, as dam breaks and the old system of oppression comes down. But at the end, through the bridging of the two ‘worlds’, and the re-connection to nature, I think most of Frozen II is a story of healing.

Anna, through her descent through grief and loneliness, and finally to her own ascension as water-protector and eventually one half of the bridge between worlds. Elsa as the other half, in her process through making a bit of peace with her own ancestry, and her place as a balance and proverbial ‘fifth element’. And of course the Northuldra, who teach us about healing the land and our relationship to it, and our relationships between people, especially indigenous people and healing the transgressions of our own past.

Thanks for reading!


The Spirits of Stars

I think one of the things that I love most about working through Finnish folklore is that the animism is really naturalistic. By this I mean that the experiences of spirits are tied closely to natural phenomena and the land. There is a real interconnection between the practical everyday experience of living and the spirits. This is one of the things I love most about being an animist, is that the mundane is also simultaneously the spiritual. There is no separation of the experience.

For me, it also allows a bridge between science and storytelling. Speaking of my own experiences allows me to speak multi-vocally, with more than one voice at the same time. When I write or speak about land spirits, I am talking about both the physical land in a very real scientific sense, as well as my spiritual experience of the same land. Sometimes spirits are metaphors or allegory, sometimes just story telling devices, but more often than not for me they are phenomenal experience of the place. A deer spirit could be a real living Whitetail, as well a symbolic device that is how I relate to the deer. It is almost never either/or, but rather a both/and way of relating to the world.

That’s why I enjoy väki as a concept so much. It is simultaneous both; both the matter and energies of something, as well as the spiritual “folk” of the same. This applies to the lands, forests, rivers, as well as the moon, Sun, and stars. As I’m sure you’ve guessed based on the title of this post, I will be writing about the later. I have loved the stars every since I was a small child. I’ve watched them for years, and I love how the stories they tell shift and move across the sky. Much like they did, and still do, for ancient and indigenous peoples across the world.

In Finnish, the Star People are referred to as the Tähti Väki (Star people) or the Tähtetär (Star spirits). Our own Sun, Sol, is also considered to be part of the star people, but it also has a name of their own. In modern Finnish, the Sun is usually called aurinko, but the Kalevala also gives the Sun another name, Päivä.

Päivä is the sun, and the Päivä väki (or Päivätär) are the spirits of the Sun, which is just one star our of billions. But Päivä is the most important star to those of us here on Earth. It is the source of the heat deep within our own planet, it is the source of life and the elements that make up all life on this planet. Like all stars, the Sun is a creator and a life giver, as well as a burning plasma ball of fusion.

Stars are the celestial forges that shaped every element in creation. Generations worth of stars living, dying, and especially exploding. These are the processes that seeded the cosmos with the heavier elements necessary for you and I to be here now. It is thought, that our Sun is at least a third generation star, as it contains heavier elements that could not have been created by the Sun.

(Stellar Element Table from Earthsky.org)

In addition, Earth as our home planet, is the result of stellar accretion, the process by which the Sun and all the planets were formed in the Solar System. As much as we are Children of the Earth, the Earth is a child of the Sun. We can draw a line of celestial ancestry back through our planet, through the stars, to the very Beginning of our universe. That is wild to contemplate through an animistic lens. Ultimately, as Carl Sagan once said, we are all star stuff. The Stars, the Tähti Väki are our literal and spiritual ancestors.

Old Väinämöinen said: “Good friend, craftsman Ilmarinen,

Let us set out to look, let us go to learn

What kind of fire that fire is, what kind of strange flame dropped

From heavens above to the Earth beneath

If it might be the disk of the moon, or the sphere of the Sun?

  • Kalevala, Poem 47 “Origin of Fire”

But our relationship with the Tähti Väki doesn’t stop there. I want you to consider that moonlight is just reflected sunlight, though I do feel it has it’s own particular ‘flavor’. I want you to consider as well, that all living beings on Earth depend on sunlight for their survival. Plants directly turn sunlight into food, and animals eat those plants. You and I, we eat the plants and animals (and fungi, and other things) to keep our bodies energized and healthy. None of us would bee here if not for the light and heat from the Sun. Stars are creators and life givers in a very real sense, and we just wouldn’t be here without them.

As such, it should come as no surprise that stars and the Sun are a huge part of so many belief systems, as they are in my own. It’s winter now, so we don’t see the Sun as much as I’d like right now. Still, I think it is important to think about the Sun even when it is behind the clouds, because it is so vitally important to our existence. If I were to look for some kind of Creator, I would look to the Sun and Stars.

In a way, Stars are energy in the very real sense of the word. They are the capacity to do work, and in some way or the other, our entire civilization depends on that work. Fossil fuels are stored sunlight in the form of decayed matter. Solar panels and winds both work on the Sun and the spin of the Earth. Water currents flow in the oceans as a result of unequal heating and cooling, and the Sun drives part of that process. In the words of Adam Frank, planets are the engines that turn sunlight into something interesting. The Earth is very good at that, with our robust biosphere. Heck, even as I’ve already mentioned, the heat of the Earth deep in the core is basically just trapped star-heat. (And radioactive decay.)

This is why I leave little shrines around to the sun and stars. All these relationships are things I consider when I am out for a walk, or under the night sky. I like to think that fire (as a weak plasma, though a different reaction), is a distant relative of the Sun and Stars. It produces heat and light, and we carry it with us whenever we go. In some Finnish folkore, fire is the (grand)son of the Sun.

Tuli kulta aurinkoinen, aurinkoisen pojanpoika, auringottaren tekemä.

Fire golden made of sunshine, grandson of the sun, born from his mistress.

– Finnish Folklore Atlas

Maybe the Stars are just campfires in the Sky, of which the Star People sit around. Really, really, hot plasma camp fires. And there, they create the elements that make the Cosmos possible.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Sarmela, Matti. Finnish Folklore Atlas.

The Kalevala

https://www.universetoday.com/117607/how-many-stars-did-it-take-to-make-us/


Intensive Reflections

(From Wikipedia)

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.

Cosmology

(From NASA)

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!

Practicality

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.

Naturalistic

(Me, kayaking)

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.

Statement

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.

Closing Thoughts

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!


Spirits of Michigan

A bioregion is a landmass that has continuously similar geography, flora, fauna, and human culture, usually centered around a shared watershed. Bioregions are unique in that their boundaries are not marked by national, provincial, or state borders, but instead by the land itself, the native plants and animals, and the people who live there. A bioregion is where geography, wildlife biology, ethnobotany, and anthropology meet — where science, nature, and folklore are one. “ Sarah Anne Lawless

Hello again folks!

I hope the above quote gives you an idea of what I want to talk about today. The fact that this post is titled “The Spirits of Michigan” is no accident. I want to take some of the previous posts I’ve made and tie them together in a more expansive way. In other words, I want to write a little more about things I have already touched upon.

In no small way, being a Michiganian is complicated, because Michigan is the land, but it is also more than just the land. It is the ecology, the biology, and the history. As the above quote points out, it is the unique complex whole that is my home. It’s cultural and geographical, as much as it is spiritual. My love of Michigan runs deep, as deep as the rivers that define the Great Lakes Basin.

(The green Mitten is me!)

Michigan is as much the land as it is the people, and the spirits that dwell here. It covers countless generations in time and space, from the glaciers that first carved the lakes, down to my own time. I am the youngest in a long, long line of bioregional animism. I was born to this land, the minerals and waters my very being. But, my ancestors are not from here. I’m a colonist, a settler. I don’t know this land the way the Anishanaabe did. It’s not part of my culture, nor is the culture of my ancestors. An orphan of two lands, but not entirely separate.

That’s a big can of worms to open, and as such I’m going to set it aside for now. That’s because, it’s a bit of side track. It’s not what I want to focus on right now. What I want to focus on are the overlaps, between what my ancestors once knew, what the Anishanaabe still know, and what I hope to relearn. I want to talk about the Mishiväki *, a word I just entirely made up. A hybrid of Ojibwe misha, meaning large, (mishigamaa, the name of Michigan meaning ‘large water’) and väki, a term from Finnish meaning basically ‘spiritual people/energies’. Large spirit people. Big spirit energy. Ha! It’s kind of fitting. The Spirits of Michigan.

(First People, The Anishanaabe)

(All these Germans and Finnish folks… )

Michigan’s prehistory and history is long and dense, and I’m not going to be able to cover it all here. Yet, I understand deeply why the Anishanaabe dwelt here, and why my ancestors moved in. It’s curious too, that the major demographics of Michigan also reflect in no small way the cultures I draw a lot of inspiration from, mainly Germanic (Nordic), and Finnish. Yes, there are other cultures in the mix too, and again I don’t have the space to go into all that.

At the same time, it’s not that surprising. Michigan in climate, flora, and fauna, has a lot in common with Finland, Germany, and the Nordic countries. Similar temperature ranges, and of course the Great Lakes themselves. Scandinavia and Finland are notable as peninsulas, surrounded on three sides by ocean and seas. Michigan has the Great Lakes, and the same connection to water. By the lakes, the bioregion of Michigan is defined. We have natural boundaries in almost every direction, and as the graphic above illustrates, that defines our watershed too.

Those are the veden väki, the spirits of water.

(Great Lakes, from a Ojibwe perspective from here.)

In addition to this, I’ve noted before how as much as the waters, Michigan is defined by the forests. Our history is full of old growth hardwoods and rich mixed boreal forests as you moved farther to the north. So too, is our history full of exploitative logging and lumber industries. Forests are our greatest treasure, and also our greatest loss. Those old forests are not around anymore, but thankfully they are not all lost. Planting trees and regrowing forests is a vital step to tackling the climate crisis. Those are the metsän väki.

Michigan is more than the ecology and the waters too. It is the people, and here I specifically mean the humans.** Civilization, the creations of human hands, are part of Michigan too. Our cities, our villages, the roads and bridges, all of it. These are part of the Mishiväki. The indigenous people, as well are myself, we are part of that as much as the forests and rivers.

I think that is why I like the more Celtic flavored concept of the three realms; Land, Sea, and Sky. Or in Michigan, more accurately, the Land, Lakes, and Sky. I also find the concept of the World Tree useful, and the rough correspondences to the three worlds; Middle, Lower, and Upper. This is an old shamanic conception, and shamanism in many was is the compliment to animism. It works great for relating to the bioregion of Michigan. As a way of framing spiritual relationships, as well as drawing on a deep cultural memory of trees and forests. As things should be.

Yet, in addition to all of this, we also have the spirits of our own industrial heritage and contemporary cities. The tulen väki are the spirits of fire, which has been essential for human society for a looong time. Fire, is also essential for smelting and metallurgy, and as the home of the US auto industry, also valuable to internal combustion engines. Fire is intimately tied to the raudan väki, the spirits of iron, and the gruvrået*** spirits of the mine.

(Big John Iron Mine, Iron Mountain, Michigan.)

There will be a lot more about those in future posts, but I want to say that civilization is more than heavy industry and automobiles. It is also farms, cities, and especially houses. In Finnish, the spirit of the house is usually referred to as the tonttu, which is closely related to the nisse and tomte of Norse folklore. These spirits dwelt upon the farm, in the house and in the barn, and often acted as protectors of the land. They are said to possess immense strength. There is also a strong ancestral connection, because some of the tonttu, were the original inhabitants of the land, often the first farmer to clear the field or light a fire on the property.

As the Great Lakes is home to a large shipping industry, it is also notable that tonttu spirits could also take ships as their home, these spirits are known as skeppstomte or skibsnisse. In Norwegian, the yard spirit could be called the gårdsrå. In modern times, I think it is safe to presume planes, trains, and automobiles would have their own kinds of spirits too. Car-väki. (whomp whomp) Okay, maybe not that last one…

(SS Arthur M. Anderson, a Great Lakes freighter.)

As I am coming up on the end of this piece, it might be fair to ask what the point of all this is? Well, that is a much bigger project than a simply blog post. Long story short, this kind of work provides the basis for me to do further field work. It is also me working my way through a kind of contemporary animism. Animism isn’t just about what was, but where we are standing right now. My home in Michigan is well removed from my ancestral lands, and in the same way I am far removed from those cultures. I’m not Finnish, or Nordic, and only look to them for inspiration. Still, that inspiration (means ‘in-spirited’, ha!) gives me a foundation in which to shape my own practice in current times. It gives me the means to shape for myself a very Michigan based kind of animism. A new way of rooting myself to the land, forests, lakes, and people I call home. It gives me the ability to shape new stories and bits of folklore that are rooted in our modern scientific and technology world and the ecology around me.

That is the whole point of bioregional animism after all!

Thanks for reading!

Notes/Sources;

*I like the symmetry of it too, that grammatically, the Anishanaabe root-word comes first (as the indigenious people did), and the ancestral root-word comes second. That’s weird grammar chronology.

** ‘People’ is a pretty wide concept in animism.

*** The Rå are Scandianvian/Swedish folklore spirits, with a lot of overlap with the Finnish concepts of väki and haltijas (spirits), as well as vaettir in Norse.

http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/paleo-indian.html

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2019/08/01/spirits-of-the-waters/

https://decolonialatlas.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/the-great-lakes-in-ojibwe-v2/

http://ironmountainironmine.wixsite.com/ironmine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%A5

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisse_(folklore)


Spirits of the Waters

(Me, kayaking on a local river)

Hello again folks!

I am sorry that it took so long to get another post out to you all. Truth be told, I have been struggling with the writing a little bit. It’s not a lack of interest or a lack of material, but a lack of energy and free time. My day job has been really stressful, and that has taken a lot out of me. It makes extraneous tasks a bit harder. More than that, it’s summer, so I have been spending more time outdoors. I have also been spending my time reading on nice days. For what it is worth, the Expanse series of novels is really good. I’m on number four now.

All that aside, today I wanted to continue my series on the spirits. You can find the previous posts about forests here , and about the dead here. It was also inspired by the last fall’s trip to Michigan State University, which you can find here.

I’ll like to add another post to that series today, but before I do I wanted to make a few quick notes. You might be wondering what the point is to all of this? If I may make a statement of intent, the recent series of posts on spirits is for me to hash out some of the details of my own cosmology. I draw a lot of inspiration from my ancestral cultures, especially Finnish and Nordic, but also with some Irish/Scottish/Celtic/English thrown in. That said, it’s been a long time since my family has been immigrants, at least seven generations of my family has been born in North America. As such, while my ancestors inspire me, my animism and spiritual practice is very much grounded in the contemporary here and now. It is one part inspiration, and one part bioregionalism. I’ll talk a lot more about this in the next post, as a kind of ‘hybrid’ form of spirituality.

But I don’t want to go too far down that past just yet. So instead let’s talk about the spirit of the water. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are called the veden väki, the people/energies of the water. I love the Finnish concept of väki, because it has two simultaneous meanings. It means the energies of a place, in a very real physical sense. The cycles of energy and matter in an ecosystem, including the plants, animals, air, and the earth in that system. It is the constant flow of energy that often goes unseen and unremarked. The second sense, is that the väki are the folk of a location, the people; the spirits of a place. Again, this can be in a very physical way. The fish, the water plants, the bugs, the water fowl, all of them. It can also include the more spiritual ‘unseen’, whether metaphors, meaning narratives, or other more metaphysical methods.

(Ludington Pumped Hydro Storage, literal energy)

Why water spirits? Well, first and foremost, water is essential to all life on Earth. The hydrological cycle from ocean to rain, river to lake, is absolutely vital to everything we know. Water is life, essentially and fundamentally. 70% of our planet is covered in water, and approximately the same percentage in our own bodies. That is why the veden väki are often present in healing and sustenance folklore. Water is vitality, vital for healing as well as longevity.

More than this, my home state of Michigan is defined by water and the spirits of water. The very name of the state comes from Ojibwe, mishigamaa, which means “large water” or “large lake.”

(Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan)

The picture of me kayaking above is on a local tributary of the Grand River, whose Native American name is O-wash-ta-nong, meaning “Far-away-water'” thought to refer to the length of the river. The Grand River is the longest river in the state, at 406 kilometers (252 miles) from Hillsdale County to where it meets Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. Through it’s local tributary (and with a surplus of vacation time) I could kayak from my house all the way to Lake Michigan.

In addition, Michigan is bounded by four of the five Great Lakes, which make up 1/5 of the world’s total fresh water.

The state has 11,037 inland lakes and 38,575 square miles (99,909 km2) of Great Lakes waters and rivers in addition to 1,305 square miles (3,380 km2) of inland water. No point in Michigan is more than 6 miles (9.7 km) from an inland lake or more than 85 miles (137 km) from one of the Great Lakes. – From Wikipedia

Aside from Alaska, Michigan has the longest shoreline of any other state, at about 3,288 miles not including islands. This is the same approximate length of the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida. There is a reason the Great Lakes region is often referred to as the “Third Coast”.

(The Great Lakes Basin)

It would be easy to cite facts all day, but that is not what I want to do. My homeland is amazing in a lot of different ways, not the least of which that I can bike and kayak so many major waterways without going far from home. Plus the state is like 51% forest, and that surely pleases my Finnish ancestors. This state, this land, is as much the land as it is the waters. Together, the two aspects of Michigan are what make it home for me. It is an essential part of my spiritual practice, as much as it is an essential part of the land that practice is rooted in.

My childhood was spent in the rivers, lakes, streams, and forests of Michigan. The forests defined me, and the waters shaped me. The väki of metsän and veden are part of me, literally and figuratively. They are the spirits of my home, and of Michigan. Finland seems far away, but also very close to home.

Thanks for reading!

Notes/Sources;

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Michigan

https://www.consumersenergy.com/company/what-we-do/electric-generation/pumped-storage-hydro-electricity

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

Scandinavian Folk Belief & Legend, ed. by Henning K. Sehmsdorf and Reimund Kvideland

Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela

Kalevala, by Elias Lönnrot translated by Francis Magoun

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

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

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