Category Archives: Animism/Shamanism

The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

(My neck of the woods, from space. NASA composite image)

Hello again folks!

When I originally wrote this post, I didn’t expect this to have a second part, nor did I expect it to warrant a response; especially a three part one. As such, I give a hat tip to my friend Sarenth over at his blog, and his response from the first article I used in my original piece here.

I wanted to address a few of the points he raised, and add on a lot more to the original piece. There would appear a lot more to say on this matter. First off I will start with a couple of points, as a response to Sarenth. This is to clarify my own position, more than it is to argue with his.

Overall, Sarenth is very critical of the ideas of the first article, and the ideas within. That is within his right to be so, and you are welcome to check out his thoughts for yourself. For the record of this series, neurology, science, specific definitions of the soul, and transhumanism are outside the content of this series.  That is not what I am here to talk about, as this series is more philosophy than anything. But there is one point I do wish to address. Sarenth says;

“Certainly, if we consider the the soul “as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?” then my hugr,my munr (memory) and possibly my lich, my body, would be all that I am.  It denies the other parts of the Northern Tradition and Heathen Soul Matrix.  

This boils down the soul itself to a purely materialist concept, dispensing entirely with the numenous.  It may make the concept of the soul more palatable to ‘modern’ people, but it is poor theology.  It is like saying “All I am is my cells.”  While strictly true in a physical, materialist sense, it belies the creativity with which I write, the life I lead.  “What of my mind and my individual will?” for example, is a concept poorly explained in such a system.  If indeed we have any notion that we are other than living in a mechanical, purely material universe, then this notion ignores our will, and the mind itself.  If the concept of the soul merely boils down to “You being you is merely the result of your genetics, and the way your brain is formed and wired”, then it not only neuters the understanding of the soul, it outright destroys it.”

I do want to make clear, that in no way am I personally suggesting that the sum-total of our material bodies is all that we are. Nor is redefining what “soul” means of any real interest to me (with the exception being the immortal part.) All I am is not my cells, or my material and energy cycles. That is nearly precisely the opposite of what I want to talk about here.

In fact, per the original NPR article, what I really want to frame is this quote here from Gleiser;

“Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you” 

The real point I want to make is not the brain, or its neurology; but of emergent properties. The mind, all that we think and feel, emerges from the connections in our brains. The (human) soul, as I currently like to think of it, is an emergent property of the sum total of the connections between the cells and material in our bodies. Trillions and trillions and trillions of connections of matter, energy,  and complex systems interacting.

As I imagine the soul, it is what emerges when all those connections are considered. Like trillions of little “spiritual filaments” connecting everything in our mind and body, and which is greater than our individual material selves. I envision it like a really complex mesh of trillions of little glowing filaments it a more or less human shape. That is my essence, my spirit, my soul. Without those connections, all I am would cease to be. (Which is more or less what happens at death, but now is not the time.)

All in all, drawing from Sarenth’s post, Soul Matrix is a great word for this. A complex network from which something else develops. Meshing, Matrix, Network, Wiring; all of which I will use to describe the emergent property I currently think of as the soul.

As far as terms like Hugr and Munr are concerned, they can be used as a “spiritual shorthand.” Frankly, smaller numbers of “parts” are a lot easier to communicate than “a matrix of a trillion trillion light filaments.” Both have their place, I think.

However, moving beyond the individual, we are connected to pretty much everything else on this planet. Some of these connections are tangible, like matter relationships with our food. Some are not nearly as tangible, like the words we exchange with one another. When we extend these connections, these “filaments” beyond ourselves; things start to get really interesting.

As I have said before, I am a big fan of the concept of emergent properties. As you network and connect a greater number of parts, synergies start to happen. Synergy here is defined as “the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts”, and not as some bad corporate propaganda. Two oxygen atoms connect with a hydrogen, and water happens; which has characteristics of neither. You get enough water together with other molecules and some self-replicating proteins, single celled life happens. When evolution experiments with enough arrangements of different forms of life over the long flow of time; humans happen.

In short, the sum is greater than the sum of the parts. At each new level of organization, new properties emerge that are not predicated by the lower levels. This has fascinating implications from an animistic point of view, which is all about creating relationships.

Enough plants, animals, rocks and rivers together and you get an ecosystem. You get enough humans together together and you get a society. When you experiment with enough societies, you get more complex and larger forms of networked humans.

(Note, both evolution and social development are non-linear processes. There are failures, successes, stops and starts.)

Yet, what happens when you get a “critical mass” of human societies networked with other systems on a planetary scale? Something interesting may be emerging indeed… Here I turned to an article from the BBC;

“In Ancient Greek mythology, the Earth Goddess Gaia had nine titan sons, who attempted to control not just the Earth, but the entire Universe. I’d like to introduce another. It’s a new creature who emerged only in recent decades. But it’s a creature who is already as influential over life on the planet as the phytoplankton or forests that regulate global temperature, the weather and the air we breathe.

That new creature is us, or more precisely, what humanity is becoming. The entirety of our species, Homo sapiens, is evolving into a superorganism; I’ll call this new life force Homo omnis, or ‘Homni’.

We have now become the dominant force shaping our planet. Some say that because of our actions we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, or the age of man. Homni is a product of this age, a product of human industrialisation, population expansion, globalisation and the revolution in communications technology, and he is immensely powerful.”

The idea of the superorganism is an old one, and here it is used more as an analogy than as a literal truth. Herbert Spencer was one of the first to propose the idea in the social theory. Here is a excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Spencer explored the holistic nature of society as a social organism… For Spencer, the super-organic was an emergent property of interacting organisms, that is, human beings. ”     

Still, the idea has gone through many thinkers, and many different variations. When thinking about an increasingly networked world, the superorganism becomes an interesting analogy. If the whole is greater than the sum of the parts; we might want to think about looking a lot harder at the parts we each play. Such a worldview would favor greater collaboration, greater integration and networking, and a life centered approach. The whole of it all would be one part humanity, one part technology, and one part ecology.

We would need to look at the world through a much more holistic lens.

I give the last word here to the BBC;

“And here lies an interesting paradox. Humans may have evolved through a process of natural selection – essentially outcompeting rivals to death – but as palaeontologist Tim Flannery says, this has led not to a “dog-eat-dog world”, but to a cooperative society. He believes we are in the process of forming an interdependent global society with a set of shared beliefs – a “civilisation of ideas” – that will transform Earth into a more equitable and ecologically curated planet. It’s an optimistic view of Homni, based on the fact that most people want to get on with each other and look after their neighbourhood environment. Whether, or to what degree, Flannery’s altruistic view of humanity bears out is the big question.”

 Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

BBC – Superorganism

Collective Intelligence

Superorganism

The Technium

The Hobbesian


The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence

Hello again folks, hope you are all doing well!

Today I want to talk some about some recent pieces that I have read recently. The two pieces in question are really fascinating to think about in the context of an animistic practice.

Both of these pieces come from NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. If you are not familiar with it, I would highly recommend checking it out. There are some great writers over there.

The first piece is by Marcelo Gleiser, and is entitled Is Neuroscience Rediscovering the Soul? To frame this discussion, I start out with a quote from the article;

“The idea that neuroscience is rediscovering the soul is, to most scientists and philosophers, nothing short of outrageous. Of course it is not.

But the widespread, adverse, knee-jerk attitude presupposes the old-fashioned definition of the soul — the ethereal, immaterial entity that somehow encapsulates your essence. Surely, this kind of supernatural mumbo-jumbo has no place in modern science. And I agree. The Cartesian separation of body and soul, the res extensa (matter stuff) vs. res cogitans (mind stuff) has long been discarded as untenable in a strictly materialistic description of natural phenomena.”

I have to admit, I had the same kind of reaction when I first read the title. The world really is a fantastic mix of matter and energy, but these things are interchangeably and so far science has not found what might be called a “spirit particle” or anything of the sort. From what we know of this world, everything is pretty much matter or energy.

Still, as an animist there is definitely a spiritual component to all the work that I do. I do think I have a spirit, a life essence, a life force; if you will. But I don’t think that my spirit is at all separate from my body. In some cosmologies, the spirit is not one piece, but a whole collection of different “spirits” in one body.

I take a similar view; but on a much more biological scale. My body is the collective of countless numbers of individual cells, individual spiritual persons. Together, they make something much greater than the sum of the parts. (We will come back to this later in this piece.) Yet there is something in there, a sum collective of all my energies and processes that is distinctly me. My body and my spirit are so deeply integrated and networked, that it’s not always clear where one ends and the other begins.

Gleiser says it this way;

“But what if we revisit the definition of soul, abandoning its canonical meaning as the “spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immortal” for something more modern? What if we consider your soul as the sum total of your neurocognitive essence, your very specific brain signature, the unique neuronal connections, synapses, and flow of neurotransmitters that makes you you?

Just as we have unique fingerprints, our brains, their “connectome,” are also unique. Surely, all brains are made of the same stuff, but wired in very individual ways. Recall that our brains are plastic, and mold themselves according to environmental and emotional inputs — the stories of our lives. To this, we must add our bodies and their relation to our brains. For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration as mapped through the complex highways of nerves interlocking all of you.”

Reading that made my skin crawl in a rather wonderful way. I especially love the bit where he says “For the mind is embodied, the self not an isolated property of what’s inside your cranium, but an emergent property of your whole mind-body integration…”

Remember that part about emergent properties and integration, we will be coming back to that.

The thing I refer to as my “self” is really more of a collective of individuals than a single being. All the trillions of cells in my brain and body working in conjunction across masses of networks. That is my body as well as my soul. The Norse concept of hugr, a form of the spiritual “self” is a rather nice fit here. The hugr is considered to be the sum total of the mental life of an individual, and that is exactly what I think Gleiser is talking about.

Our stories, our environment, and our own makeup interacting and coming up with this thing we might call the spirit. That is just wonderful in so many ways.

Before I harp too much on that, I want to turn to the other article that I read recently. It is by David Haskell, and is titled Life is the Network, not the Self.

In talking about a maple leaf, Haskell says;

“By eavesdropping on chemical conversations within the leaf, biologists have learned that the life processes of a plant — growing, moving nutrients, fighting disease, and coping with drought — are all networked tasks, emerging from physical and chemical connections among diverse cells. These leaf networks are dynamic. “

I told you we would come back to emergent properties and networked integration. When we consider our own bodies, we see huge networked complexes working together in both conflict and cooperation. Bacteria in our guts are working to help us digest our food, networked neurons are working to process the information from our senses, our heart muscles are working in a constant beat to keep the blood, nutrients and oxygen moving through our bodies.

As Haskell points out, this kind of integration expands well beyond the individual human, but to maple trees, ecosystems, and the entire biosphere of the planet. Every collective being on this planet is networked, and from that networking new and fascinating forms emerge. Over the long course of evolution, individual cells have been experimenting with different collective networks, and that has given rise to every single living thing on this planet.

As Haskell says;

“Living networks are ancient, perhaps as old as life itself. Models and lab experiments on the chemical origin of life show that interacting networks of molecules beat self-replicating molecules in a Darwinian struggle. Many of the first fossilized cells of life on Earth lived in integrated bacterial stacks called stromatolites. Today, all major ecosystems — forests, coral reefs, grasslands, ocean plankton — are built on conversations between interdependent partners. Cut these conversations and the ecosystems fall apart. The first artificial cells also have a networked character. When scientists organize chemical reactions into arrays of tiny, interconnected compartments, life-like properties emerge: cycles of protein production, gradients of signaling chemicals, and the ability to maintain a steady internal state. Without the network, the homogeneous chemical soup lacks any tang of life.

The fundamental unit of biology is therefore not the “self,” but the network. A maple tree is a plurality, its individuality a temporary manifestation of relationship.”

If we consider the soul to be the sum total of all these connections, in our bodies and with our environment, something rather fascinating and terrifying starts to emerge. As I have explained many times before, animism is concerned with life living in relationships with each other.

Consider our relationships well beyond ourselves. Think about the sum total of all of our technology and the natural world around us. Take a look at our cities from space and ask yourself, what is emerging from our relationships with other beings on this planet?

[Credit: NASA/Suomi NPP VIIRS/Miguel Román/Joshua Stevens]

Thanks for reading!

References/Sources;

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/05/522738015/is-neuroscience-rediscovering-the-soul

http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/04/04/522011396/the-key-to-life-is-the-network


Spiritual Engineering

Hello again folks!

Now that things have calmed down just a little bit, I have had the time to sit down and knock out another post. As far as updates are concerned, we are about a month away from opening the shop back up, and I am finishing up proofing on the fifth book of the Elder Blood Saga. It really has been a hell of a ride, and I am sad to see that series come to an end. But all things come to an end, so now I move on to other projects.

Just what are we talking about today? You might have noticed the title of this post is “Spiritual Engineering.” You are probably wondering what exactly I am getting at?

Naturally, I will be happy to explain. But first, some context. As some of may know, I have recently started the coursework for two year shamanic intensive. It has been rather fantastic so far! I am still in the introductory work, and there is already so much to think and write about! Of course, that is good news for you, my readers, as you get to come along for the ride.

In the intensive, I recently went through a course in which we talked a great deal about neurology, and our own set of spiritual “wiring” in the context of shamanism. What we are really going to be talking about is energy work, and the “hardware and software” we use to make that work.

However, first I want to be clear about how I am using terms. When I refer to energy work, I restrict that usage to the “self”. You have probably heard the adage that “everything is energy”, and I certainly don’t disagree with that. However, I would add that in an animistic context, every is not just energy. Once you move into the world external to yourself, you are no longer dealing with just energy. You are dealing with persons; each of which has their own will, awareness and most importantly, boundaries. I learned this the hard way. I’ll tell you that story sometime, as it has taken me a while to make sense of that.

While it may be true that trees and rocks are made up of energy, they are more than JUST energy. The point being, once you move beyond the self, we are talking more about “spiritual social work” than mere “energy work.” Beyond the self, in an animistic context, you are now interacting with the social world of other-than-human persons. I hope the distinction makes sense.

So, for this post we are only talking about individual energy work. The work you do with your own personal spirit. Now, I have a pretty complicated view of the spirit. That is because the singular individual “self” we conceive is anything but singular. We are made up of countless number of individual cells, all of which form to together to make this collective individual we refer to as “me.”

In an animistic context, all of those cells have their own spirits; but in the grand scheme of things the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Still, the point is that all of these cells exist in great vast network. It is those connections and networks that make all of systems work together, and from the connections in our brain that allow us to conceive of ourselves in the singular.

In addition, it is my working theory that the spirit is in many ways analogous to our physical body. Just like neurons in the brain, all those little connections and networks are part of our spirit, and constitute our “spiritual wiring.” You with me so far?

Now, you get at least two camps when you talk about spiritual wiring, especially in regards to shamanism.

On the one side, you get what I might call the hard-wired camp. These are the people that claim that shamanism is only for those with a certain “energetic circuitry”. Basically, if you don’t have the right make up, you can’t be a shaman.

On the other side, there are those that think it is more of a universal thing. That in short, any one can be a shaman. If the calling is there, and the spirits have come forward, the “wiring” is a work in progress. It might be worked and reworked over and over again over the process.

Which is where the spiritual engineering comes in. For me it is certainly not an “either/or” type of thing. We are pretty adaptable as organisms, and even our brains have a noted plasticity in their connections. However, I also take more of a moderate view. Some parts of our “wiring” might be hard-wired, and it places limits on what we can do and what we can’t do. Yet, it can be rearranged and adapted as well. Weak circuits can be bypassed, and new augmentations can be added. They can also be removed and stripped out too. That is spiritual engineering. Tailoring the “wiring” for the job at hand.

Are there limits, sure. Some might even be built into my “core structure”, or whatever you would like to call my predetermined wiring. But that doesn’t stop me from doing a redesign either. I little rewiring here, a little bypass there. I plug this plasma conduit into that warp core, and bam! Ready to go!

(From Google images. I think it makes the point.)

Let me use shielding as an example. I am just going to assume you all know what I am talking about. Shielding is one of those things I really enjoy to play with, because it is only limited by your imagination. I am sure none of my regular readers would be surprised if I said I have played with sci-fi inspired shielding, fantasy shielding, and pretty much anything else I have been able to imagine.

For example, say I want to wade into some kind of spiritual nightmare. Maybe I have to deal with a spiritual nasty at the boss level. As such, I want to engineer a shield that can hold up to some punishment. So I take a good hard look at my spiritual wiring, and realize it can’t handle what I need to do. I’d be pretty SOL if I couldn’t do some adaptive redesign.

So I build myself an armor suit straight out of Mass Effect, all N7 and such. But I find that one of my spiritual circuits just can’t handle the load I want to run through it. It would be the analogy of running 100 volts through a 12 volt wire. Obviously, if I don’t do something about that, my circuitry is going to fry.

I also find out that this given circuit is one of my “hard-wired” bits. It is required for something else to work, so I can’t really cut it out and replace it. It’s required equipment. I CAN however bypass it. So I install a bypass that can carry the spiritual current I need, and never have to worry about burning the little 12 volt out.

That way I can run the power I need to, and be good to go in the ass-kickery department.

However, just like real life engineering, I wouldn’t recommend just jumping into this kind of thing. The example above is for illustration purposes only. Just like I wouldn’t recommend Joe-Unskilled from the street take over Scotty’s position on the Enterprise, I wouldn’t advise messing with your wiring without the expertise to do so. Or at least without “adult” supervision.

Realize, that this kind of energy work has taken me many years of training and study to even guess at. Just like real world engineering, it takes expertise, experience and study to become proficient at it.

As such, the “don’t try this at home” caveat applies.

As always, thanks for reading!


Animism and Relationships

I just want you all to know that you all are amazing! My hits on this site have been pretty steady, even though I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I would like lately. I have been really busy on other projects… In addition to a full time job, it is really taxing on my time. I have to pick and choose what I am going to devote my time and energy to, and sadly this blog has been low on the priority list.

At the same time, I really didn’t want to put this on hiatus while I worked on other projects. Still, I didn’t want to be putting out crap here (which tends to happen when my head is in something else), because I value myself as a writer of decent content. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; being a novelist and a blogger is really hard sometimes. Usually, I have to pick between one or the other. Either I am putting out good writing for a novel, OR I am putting out good writing for this blog. When I try to juggle both at the same time, the quality of each suffers. It’s all about time and energy management.

But all the same, THANK YOU, all of you, for consistently reading even when I am being neglectful. It really means a lot to me.

Now, into what I hope will be good blog.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, thinking about humanity, our civiliations, and its relationship to the environment. In many ways, that is one of the cornerstones of my animism; how we live in relation to one another. “One another” can mean other humans, or non-humans. Relations is a big wide sounding concept, and it is the thing that binds us all together.

The idea for this blog struck me while I was playing games one night. It should come as no surprise that I like to play games in my downtime. I especially like creative games, because it helps to keep the juices flowing without all that mucking about with “productivity.” It lets me wind down, and imagine all at the same time.

An idea struck me late last night when thinking about a couple of games I like to play; namely Starmade and Minecraft. While neither of these are perfect models, they can be used as interesting teaching tools.

For example, Minecraft is a rough model of a pre-industrial society. Most of the work is done by hand (survival mode), and is done mostly by human and animal power. It is a relatively low energy model.

minecraft-windows-10-edition-03-700x373

(We got pigs. We got farms.)

Starmade by contrast is an industrial model. Most extraction and production is done with powered equipment and industrial scale factories. It allows not only faster extraction, but also a significantly larger building scale.

This has both pros and cons. Minecraft has a much slower building rate, and generally a slower extraction rate. Starmade’s build system allows for much larger works on a much faster time scale. However, the extraction rate is also proportionally higher. It is possible in Starmade to build extraction equipment that mines entire planets.

Neither of these games have any real consequences for environmental exploitation. Unlike the real world.

At least in the vanilla versions of these games, there is no consequences in Minecraft if I level an entire forest to build a house. Hell, I could even burn the forest down without any intent of using the resources at all. It has no effect on the breathability of the atmosphere, or generally doesn’t result in the extinction of entire ecosystems. (A few pigs might die, but that might be the worst of it.)

In Starmade, as I mentioned before, you can mine an entire planet, a continent the size of North America if you wanted, and IT HAS NO CONSEQUENCES.

maxresdefault

(That is a mining ship. We aren’t even messing around anymore…)

That is not at all true in the real world, because everything is interconnected. If we treated forests as badly as I sometimes do in Minecraft, there wouldn’t be any trees left. Let’s not even talk about destroying entire worlds, because we only have one at the moment.

But we also have to face facts here. We still need resources, even if our civilization stopped growing today. We would still need timber to maintain homes, still need metal and concrete to maintain our infrastructure. Unless every single human on this planet dies (and no I’m not okay with this), we are still going to require resources to build and maintain everything we do. That is why sustainability is so important, and that is why we need to take a good hard look at our relationships with the environment.

download

(Is this really what we want?)

In Minecraft, even trees can be replanted. Hell, they even grow at a crazy unrealistic rate. In the real world, can you guess how long the forest in the above picture would take in the picture to come back? Decades at least, centuries even.

Now, I want to say that I really do love playing these games.

But we also need to be realistic about these things. For example, let’s talk about efficiency for a moment. We live in an industrial economy, and that means we can do wonderful things like mass produce solar panels, wind turbines, and even rockets to the moon. We couldn’t do these things in a Minecraft style pre-industrial world.

But with that efficiency comes a cost. To keep up with an industrial production rate, we need an industrial extraction rate too. In Starmade I can make ridiculous large factories designed to build large ships such as Krom (not my ship by the way) above. However, those factories may also require me to WASTE ENTIRE PLANETS to keep up with their resource demands.

That is just not sustainable, especially in real life we one have the Earth. One little blue and green planet.

strip_coal_mining

(Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment.)

To circle back to the beginning of this piece; animism is all about relationships. Between humans, and between humans and the environment. It is the relationship between us and our technology, us and our civilization, and the entirety of the planet. These relationships have consequences, and we need to be honest about that. What do our relationships say about us?

What will our relationships look like in the future?

greencity_final polluted-chinese-city_opt1

(right: by Nick Pedersen left: a city in China.)

Thanks for reading!


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 3

For this part, I really want to talk about a lot of things that are forthcoming. For lack of better phrasing, this will be the “what is next?” section.

There have been plenty of other exciting things going on as this year. I got two more books published, and I am really excited about that. There is another one coming in the beginning of the new year. The very last book in my Elder Blood Saga, the fifth book in the series. That book is in editing right now.

In the writing realm of things, I am aiming to publish two more books next year. The first I just mentioned, and the second is the start of a new series. It is a kind of “Michigan Werewolf” novel, a contemporary fantasy inspired by the work of Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn. I’ll start editing the first book of that series in the new year, and see how it goes.

There is definitely a lot of thoughts in that regard. With the new series comes new artwork, and I am still trying to decide how I am going to approach that. I have also considered approaching a smaller more “traditional” publisher. I will tell you folks, honestly being self-published is a lot of work. All the marketing, editing, writing, artwork & design, all that falls on me to coordinate. It is a lot of work for very little return. Still, I felt it was the best option for someone at my level.

There is also plenty of writing to do. This blog will likely go on hiatus soon while I start work on a longer project. There has been one rolling around in my head for some time, and another story not too far behind. I really wish I could do this full time. That would be swell. Ah, but I am dreamer after all.

Being an author these days is kind of rough, but there are also a lot of exciting new avenues people can explore. They each have their pros and cons to be sure, but I can honestly say that without things like Amazon and Createspace, I would not have any work published at this point in time. I have the rejection letters to prove it.

In many ways the market it changing. It pains me to say it, but it some ways the publishing industry has followed the pattern of the more general labor market. You know, the bit that says “entry level, must have 5 years of experience.” A lot of the “traditional” publishers I have approached are in business to make money, and so they like things that are already established, and this includes authors as well as plot line formulas. I am thinking about trying that route again, so I can focus more of my time on writing. I can maybe shift some of that weight off my shoulders.

Plus, as some of you may noticed, I opened my own shop this year. There has been a lot of work on that front, and plenty more still to go. There is a lot more learning to do, and each piece I make teaches me something. I am hoping in the coming year to expand into in-person vending. This year I was building most of the basic infrastructure for my shop. Next year, I want to expand on all that.

I am looking in to my options for that, comic cons (writing), bazaars, flea markets, anywhere that might give me an option to sell my work.

In a more general sense, there is a lot more I got to learn. I want to expand a lot of crafting skills, and try some new things. I also want to seek out some mentors to show me some new things I haven’t thought of just yet. There is plenty of studying to do.

This applies on a spiritual level as well. I mentioned in the first part of this post how I am largely self-taught (spirit taught?) in a lot of things. Still, in many ways I feel like I need more training; and I am not entirely sure where that is going to come from at the moment. One of the big reasons I am building the shop is partly because I feel a spiritual push to do so. It is something I want to do, yes; but there is also some outside pressure there. It is kind of two sides of the same coin. Where my personal desires intersect with those I work with.

And there is still so much to learn there. I want to go deeper, and I think this year has started that process. Where it goes I am not really sure yet. Still, what has been asked of me is substantial at this point. I am basically taking this one day at a time.

On another front, I think next year is going to get very interesting on a much more general scale. I already talked about the election cycle this year, and it really helped me to clarify a lot of my own positions on various issues. It has also been very depressing, mostly due to the fact that our new President-elect and his administration are pretty much openly hostile towards all the things I value the most.

So, in short, I think that the coming year will also be a year of resistance for people like me. Alone, I don’t have much in the way of power or influence. But I also know I am not the only one out there, that there are people that believe as I do.

I for one, have no interest in seeing all the progress we have made as a country tossed out. I want to preserve many of the hard won gains we have made, especially under the Obama administration. I for one, will fight to protect our environment, our basic Human Rights, our Civil Rights, and anything else I think that is worth defending.

Thanks for reading!

See you folks in 2017!


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 1

We are moving into the time of year where I tend to get really reflective and meditative. It is my big writing time for the year, where I tend to spend most of my time on longer projects. There is certainly a novel or two rolling around in my head, and at least one non-fiction work.

It has yet to be seen if I will actually have the time to work on all three projects (or any that have yet to make themselves known.) I might be able to work on one, having to have a day job and all. If anyone wants to give me a bunch of money or offer me a residency in some far off place (preferably in Scandinavia), now would be the time. Anyone?

Oh, the sounds of silence.

Anywho, enough of that. This certainty has been a hell of a year. There is just so much I could talk about here, I am going to have to be a little selective. As this is primarily a blog for spiritual things (as well as other things), I guess it makes the most sense that I should start with the changes in my spiritual path over this year.

There have been a lot of changes in that regards to be sure. I have been reading on a lot of different topics, and experimenting with new ideas to see what works, and what doesn’t. Some new thoughts have taken root, and I have moved beyond some old ones. A lot of generalities, yes I know.

Well, I guess it is fair to say I have been in “questioning” mode throughout most of this year. There was a time or two I dropped into spiritual crisis over the course of this year. Sometimes the questions without answers become far too heavy to carry after a point. There has been a fair bit of doubt and uncertainty, and through the great ups and downs of this year, more than a share of depression and anxiety.

I have felt lost at times. When I asked myself what path am I on, I don’t know really how to answer that anymore. There is nothing that really feels like it “fits”. Skins I have either outgrown, or were never mine to begin with. In the most general sense, I consider myself an animist. The world is full of people, most of which are non-human. Since I have written quite a bit about that, so I don’t want to belabor that point.

It’s true that my ancestors have always been a real core of my practice. The dead are always with us, in some way or another. On my less “spiritual” days, I know they are still in my DNA, in my blood and bone. Even when I doubt everything else, I know that; on a purely physical level they are with me. That is one corner stone of certainty I can grasp onto when I wonder if all this is just in my head.

That has been a big bit of this year. I think it is normal that we all have doubts, especially in matters such as spirituality. I mean, we can no longer touch the dead, no longer feel them physically in our lives. Sometimes I think I hear them, and other beings too. Yet, some days I have to stretch just to reach… anything. It makes me wonder if it is all in my head? I have felt that a lot this year; looking over that edge and wonder if I should fall off?

I think I am partially convinced that line of thought is wrong. How can this be all in my head if I can look out the door and see the Bird People, and the Tree People; if I can run down the forest trails with the Deer People? That is real, at least as real as these things get. I have been down the road of “what is reality”, and I don’t want to go there again. If this what is “real” is all some kind of hologram, I don’t want to know. Let me think that where I find myself is real, and let me keep my feet on the ground. If this is all some kind of “brain in a jar” Matrix shit, I don’t want to know.

So there are some certainties to be sure, but there are days when the doubts get heavy. If the ancestors, spirits, gods (whatever) I hear some days; if that is all in my head I have some serious problems. That is the other reason I think I am scared to contemplate that possibility. If this is all in my head, I have some real serious problems… That idea terrifies me. I hate having to look at my sanity, and wonder if I am all there?

Other days, fuck it. We are all crazy here.

Perhaps that really gets at the marrow on my year. It has been a lot of that. I also have been reading a lot of my old posts on this blog. Some of them are still relevant, others feel like some long lost skin. I do not see myself in those posts anymore. I have outgrown them, and left them far behind.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. It is kind of like a journal of my path as an individual. If you are all keeping up, you might have notice things have been shifting. Old ideas have not been entertained in a while, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Some might call that growth. Me, I don’t know. Some days it just feels like I am running in place.

Which kind of circles back to the idea of the supposed “path I walk.” I don’t know what to call it anymore. It’s animistic sure, and there is some shamanism-ish in there too. Ancestor work still makes up the core, with a close periphery of work with other people, primarily of the “natural” variety. Trees, rocks, wolves; you know, things we can point to in the “real” world. I know, for a fact, that these things are beyond myself.

I also know for a fact that my ancestors are dead, as are the ancestors of those Trees and Wolves. Is it too much a stretch to thing that some part of what we are lives on after death? Maybe not our bodies, but something? That is where I get into the fuzziness that sometimes makes me question my sanity.

And then there are the gods. Oh boy, that is a big one. I have struggled with this one a lot over the last few years, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to conceive of the gods in a way I could relate to and work with. Some have claimed this is just the nature of the gods. They are unknowable and mysterious and all that.

It has been a long process (not just this year), wading through all this. My spiritual journey started with a Christian church; a Southern Baptist one. I got plenty of the “God’s will is mysterious” and that he is omnipotent, and omniscient and immortal and and and… ad nauseum.

But over the years, and especially this past year. I have stripped away much of that. To me, I think that divinity is more of a “job” or a role rather than an intrinsic state of being. The best word I have found for the gods so far is stewards, and a lot of this has come over the past year or so from my studies in Finnish folklore and belief. I have written a fair bit about that, so once again I’m not going to harp on that to much.

Still, a big part of that was the ideas of haltias in Finnish folklore. The idea of a being that was a steward over a group, a clan, a tribe, a species; what have you. A haltia can be a elder ancestor, and/or a representative; and is generally concerned with the wellbeing of “theirs”; however they may be grouped. I groked with that, I understood that.

Which lead to the other parts starting to fall away. The gods, as stewards, likely don’t know everything (some try for sure), are not all powerful, and are limited in a very real sense. They are also not likely immortal in any sense. The stories are filled with “average” people becoming gods, and gods being stripped of their power. There are also stories of dead gods, forgotten gods, and all shreds of nuance around that.

Personally, a world full of numerous “limited” gods makes more sense to me than one “Almighty” something or other.

This all leads me to think that godhood is a role, a position of responsibility. Could you imagine the responsibility on the shoulders of a being that is a steward of humanity? Such a role would almost imply you had to take the long view of things. It also implies that the life, or death, of one particular individual might not be important as the “grand scheme” of things. It would be much more about the welfare of the “whole” rather than the “parts.”

Does this all make sense? Or am I just rambling?

Still, it makes me think that maybe godhood is something that is a potential in all of us. Maybe someday, we will all be stewards of that type. Divinity might well be something that is “earned” or “granted”, and just as easily be taken away.

Or I could be way off the mark. It’s fun to think about all the same.

I want to leave this topic for a bit, and move onto another one. As I said, my “path” has been interesting so far. I have no real titles to claim, and no real “tradition” that I am an adherent to. There has really been no initiations, no big ceremonies. In many ways it has just been me stumbling my way through. Sounds a lot like life in general.

I am not trying to diminish the contributions of countless numbers of people though. I have had many mentors, guides, teachers, friends, collaborators; human and non-human both. Some of them I truly respect an count among my friends and allies, and they have helped me grow a lot as a person and on my spiritual path. Yet, at the end of the day, I am mostly self taught. One situation, one idea at a time, I have had to figure out (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn’t. In some wide sense, some of what I have learned has been hard earned. It has come with deep financial, mental, physical and emotional costs.

I have taken a great bit of inspiration and learning from my ancestors. There are reasons I study things like crafts, archaeology and anthropology. Not only do I get enjoyment out of doing so, in some ways I am bringing that past learning into myself. In no small way, I am taking old material and reforging it.

Because, at the end of the day we have to face the facts of the present. We no longer live in the times of our ancestors. Their teachings and traditions were created and shaped to deal with the challenge of THEIR times, not ours. The world has moved on. Yet, I find some of those old tools still work, even if a little bit differently than originally meant to.

The fact is, the past is history. Without some cataclysmic event, we have to deal with the realities of the here and now, and also for the future. That is what I feel I am doing. I am taking the threads left by my ancestors; the fragments of long decayed tapestries. I am taking those threads, and rebuilding something for the present. I am re-weaving, rebuilding, and reshaping all these ideas into tool for our own time.

As well as onward into the future.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 7-A

The next stop on our journey is a little bit west of the Anzick Boy, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this project. This time we are around 9000 years ago, in the state now known as Washington.

anzick-kennewick

We are at the teal dot on the west coast of the USA, circa 9,000 years ago

This find is known as the Kennewick Man, or The Ancient One, and has a long and controversial story behind it. I am going to use a few selections here to set the scene.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.” (Smithsonian/history)

What was evident right away was how complete the skeleton, which is often not the case with these kind of finds. To see a picture of the skeleton, be sure to check out the NPR link below. There is some great material there, which I am only going to be able to discuss a small segment here.

Okay, so a couple of college students stumble over this really complete skeleton, and almost immediately a controversy breaks out. One of the big reasons being, and something I have mentioned before; the conflict between respect for the dead and the need for future study and research. I will take a few more excerpts to really put this into perspective.

The fight has been raging for 20 years, ever since a couple of college kids stumbled — literally — across a human skull while wading in a river in Washington state. They thought they’d found a murder victim, and flagged down a nearby cop, who called in a local expert. Instead, they had discovered some of the oldest, most complete human remains ever dug up in North America.

Archaeologists dubbed the skeleton Kennewick Man, after the place he was found, and hoped his bones could help settle one of the greatest mysteries in the story of human migration: how did Homo sapiens, originating in Africa, end up in the Americas?” (NPR)

That sets up one side of this conflict. The archaeologists that excavated the skeleton had a lot of questions, and there was a great deal of testing and research to do before they could even begin to answer some of those questions. It is well known that research and testing is a time intensive process, and so they would need to hold onto the bones for future study. In addition, this says nothing about tests and research tools that have not been discovered yet. If a skeleton is reburied, scientists and future researchers won’t have access to it for future study.

However (and this is kind of a long excerpt;

But a group of Native American tribes considered The Ancient One, as they call him, a direct tribal ancestor — and they didn’t need science to explain how people ended up here. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time,” a leader of the Umatilla tribe wrote in a statement at the time. “We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

Working together, five tribes demanded that The Ancient One’s remains not be poked or prodded in the name of science, and instead be promptly reburied in accordance with tribal custom — and under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That federal law, passed in 1990, requires certain Native American artifacts and remains to be handed over to culturally affiliated tribes or provable descendants.

“The tribes had good reason to be sensitive,” writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Douglas Preston. “The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people.” “ (NPR)

The Native American’s claim was wrapped in a deep history of colonialism and oppression on top of the rights of the dead. This is a big issue, and I certainly don’t have the space to detail it all here. I think the excerpt above gives a rough idea of what we were talking about. It is the intersection of a lot of issues that have had a strong (and often negative) effect on Native peoples across the county.

It is an ongoing struggle for sure; as it highlighted nicely by this excerpt from NPR,

“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality,” writes Kevin Taylor at Indian Country Today, “between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.” “

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as both a student of anthropology AND a spirit worker/shamanic practitioner. I will come back to this at the end of this piece, because there is more of this story to tell.

So we have these two “sides” in conflict about the ultimate fate the Kennewick Man (anthropologists et al)/ The Ancient One (Native Peoples et al), and is the case with many of these things, the conflict has played out of the last twenty years or so.

But for these bones to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, there had to be proof of a connection between the remains and the people fighting to reclaim them today. The scientists said no such connection existed. The tribal leaders insisted it did; they could feel it in their bones. “ (NPR)

That was the crux of many of the ethical as well as legal fights that took place over the last two decades.

That question ended up spawning an unprecedented legal and ethical battle in which prominent archaeologists and anthropologists would sue the U.S. government for the chance to study the bones. Femur bones would go missing under unexplained circumstances. Bitter arguments would be pitched over the migration patterns and feeding habits of sea lions, the curvature and racial implications of cheekbones, the validity of oral tradition as courtroom evidence. “ (NPR)

The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control.” (Smithsonian/history)

In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino.” (Smithsonian/history)

On and on it went, and for the most part to verdicts favored the scientists. Now, I am not trying to set up the scientists as bad guys, but they didn’t come out looking spotless either. That being said, it is hard to underestimate what we have learned from the Kennewick Man. I wouldn’t be here writing about my ancestral connection to him if we didn’t.

For perspective;

Eventually, the scientists did get a legally approved (though very brief and highly constricted) look at Kennewick Man, and what they learned is truly amazing. Based on the shape of his skull and other features, they theorized that he or his forebears may have been Asian coastal seafarers. They may have journeyed by boat along the south Alaskan shoreline and ultimately all the way down the Americas, hugging the coast and living off kelp, fish, sea lions and the like.”

This is the “coastal migration” theory of the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that a wave, or waves, of people traveled and lived along the Pacific coast long before other travelers chased herds of tasty mastodons and mammoths across a land bridge into Alaska.

They also learned a tremendous amount about what Kennewick Man’s life may have been like. Here’s more from Preston:

“Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with ‘surfer’s ear,’ caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. … Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.” “ (NPR)

It is hard to understate how much we have learned from finds such as this one. Like I said, without his DNA data, I would not know I was related to this man in any way. However, the case of the Kennewick Man is one I learned about in my college days; for exactly the reasons I have laid out here. This find is a great case study concerning how we practice science, as well as how we treat the dead.

I am not trying to mince words here. I do feel that the Native Peoples really got the shaft in this case, up until 2015 (I will get to that in a minute). The unethical practices of some of the scientists was really distasteful, and how both federal law (NAGPRA) as well as the legal system being used for a further tool of exploitation and oppression of Native People’s really leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 new research began to pour out that supported the claims of the Native Peoples.

A group of scientists based in Denmark made a major breakthrough in 2015, after they recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone and used it to map Kennewick Man’s genetic code. When they compared that code with DNA from different populations around the world, the geneticists found it was closest to that of modern Native Americans. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in July 2015, contradicted previous assertions by scientists linking Kennewick Man to Polynesians or to the Ainu people of Japan.

At the initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists at the University of Chicago were recently able to independently verify the results of that unprecedented DNA study.” (History)

That DNA is why I am able to talk about this at all. Not only did it confirm my relation to the Kennewick Man, it was also the reason that the bones will be given back to Native Peoples, and proved that their claim was a valid one.

Now, members of the Colville tribe and four others say they’ll work together to complete the repatriation — or reburial — process, and the government has shown zero interest in standing in their way. “ (NPR)

I do not know whether or not the Kennewick Man/Ancient One has been reburied as of this time. But this case does open up a lot of questions about the practice of archaeology, and the role of Native Peoples, as well as the general treatment of the dead.

One of the scientists involved in revealing a genetic connection between Kennewick Man and living Native Americans invited members of the five tribes into the lab, where they put on body suits and entered a “clean room” to pay their respects to The Ancient One. In the wake of Kennewick, scientists have been reflecting on ways to work with indigenous communities when these kinds of conflicts come up:

“Many other researchers are taking a similar approach. [Dennis O’Rourke, a biological anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City] says that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to working with native communities. He finds some of the North American Arctic groups he works with eager to contribute to his research, others are less so; and their opinions shift over time.

” ‘We really have to change the top-down approach, where we come to people and say “these are our research questions and you should participate, because — SCIENCE,” ‘ says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin.” (NPR)

Yet, on the other hand;

Other scientists say there’s a real danger in altering scientific methods to accommodate religious belief. Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropologist at San Jose State, outlined impediments to her own work in a 2001 paper on the Kennewick controversy, and argued that regulations like NAGPRA require far too little evidence proving a cultural connection to modern-day native communities. She also suggested that such regulations — which increased around the world in the wake of NAGPRA — can have a chilling effect on scientific research:

“Consider having dedicated a large part of one’s life to unearthing the materials that are now being examined. Even casts and other important works — such as videotapes, photos, and excavation records — are in increasing danger of confiscation. Some scientists have expressed fear that their federal grants would be in jeopardy if they objected too openly to current policies. Under such circumstances, most scientists do not even begin ‘high-risk’ projects. Finds that could threaten Native American origin beliefs are especially likely to be targeted. Defendants could become embroiled for years in expensive lawsuits that neither they nor their institutions can afford …

“The politics of bone gathering in Africa are notorious … and one shudders to imagine what might happen if activists could convince modern Africans to claim early human skeletons as their ancestors, so that they too could be reburied.” (NPR)

I said I would circle back to this, and here it is. This whole case sets up a clear example of how science can conflict with oral histories, indigenous traditions, and the general respect for the dead. In my opinion, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it to, it is a question of balance to me. I agree with Raff, in which there is no silver bullet for these issues. That being said, I think there is certainly a case to be made for collaboration instead of competition. When we are talking about skeletal remains, we are not just talking about objects without a context. We are talking about the remains of the dead, and their relationship to their possible still living descendants and traditions.

As both student of anthropology and a spirit worker, I can see this from both sides. I agree partially with Weiss, that there is a real possibility that science may suffer if that uneasy balance is disturbed. As I have already said, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Kennewick Man if it wasn’t for everything we have learned from studying the finds.

If this series has shown anything, is that I can claim “early skeletons” among my ancestors. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without science. I think we can find a balance between science, and respect for the dead.

Kennewick Man/The Ancient One: Sadly, I do not have an exact percentage match for this one. The data is not included in the calculation tool I use. However, I do know that I do match this one, but it is a low count. I would put our relationship in the “distant relative category.”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

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

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/05/476631934/a-long-complicated-battle-over-9-000-year-old-bones-is-finally-over

http://www.history.com/news/army-corps-of-engineers-confirms-kennewick-man-is-native-american

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/meet-kennewick-man.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/over-9000-years-later-kennewick-man-will-be-given-native-american-burial-180958947/