Category Archives: Anthropology/Archaeology

Pit Fired Pottery

I wanted to say that I do this writing free of charge. I don’t want to put this kind of writing behind a paywall or a Patreon. Much of this I learned free on the internet, and then experimented with it, and I want to offer it to you the same way. That being said, this kind of work is… well.. work. It takes a fair bit of labor to type this all out for you. So, if you want to donate $5 or whatever to help support me, my Paypal is here. Again, not required, but donations are appreciated!

Hello again folks!

This is another post in my on going series of practical skill-sharing. It gives me a small opportunity to share with you some of the things I’ve learned over the years, and pass on some hands-on knowledge to you all.

Last time, I talked about Making Clay from Dirt, and also explored a quick way to learn more about your own soil. Alright, so we’ve made some clay, and we’ve made something out of it. The pottery for this for this how-to is made via slip casting, which is a skill I will touch on later on in another post. For now, I’m kinda glossing over that part. Let’s just assume you’ve made some awesome pottery, and now it’s time to fire it.

Pit firing is exactly what it sounds like. You put some pottery in a pit, and you start a fire around it. The pottery inside the pit then goes through a chemical process that turns the raw clay into a ceramic. A ceramic is a fired clay, that has at least partially gone through the process of vitrification, that makes the piece (at least partially) impermeable to water. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the fired ceramic will no longer melt back into mud if it gets wet. The amount of vitrification varies a lot, depending on process, clay, and temperature.

Earthenware, Stoneware, and Porcelain

Ceramics pieces such as bricks, pottery, and ceramic tiles are commonly classed in three different types; earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Earthenware is the most common type, and it is made from many different kinds of clay, is porous, (won’t retain liquids), usually non-vitreous, and is fired at a lower temperature than the other two types. It can be glazed (and thus can hold liquids), or unglazed, and is the oldest type of ceramic in human history. Examples of earthenware date back as far as 29,000 BC.

Most clays won’t survive very high temperatures during firing, so stoneware didn’t show up until about 5,000 years ago. Stoneware can only be made of specific clays, and is fired at a higher temperature than earthenware. It goes further into the vitrification process, and as such loses the porousness of earthenware. Stoneware is usually glazed as well, and as such is commonly used for liquids.

Porcelain is fired at the highest temperature of the three types, and therefore porcelain can only be made with very specific (usually kaolin) clays. Porcelain requires great skill and craft to produce, and so is the latest of the three to be invented. Porcelain, for that reason, is often found in “prestigious” items throughout history.

Modern ceramic manufacturing covers the spectrum of all three types, with a variety of glazes and materials. Ceramic tiles, bricks, terracotta flower pots, spark plugs, electrical insulation, and tableware are all made of fired clay.

Animism and Ceramic

As I don’t want this piece to be too long, I will only touch on this briefly here. There is a great deal of animism of working with earth spirits, and clay and ceramics. Just like my first piece on pottery, ceramics are a way of building relationship to the earth as well as to the ancestors. In fact, pottery is one of the key ways working archaeologists differentiate one culture from another. Every people, every culture throughout time has inscribed their own ideas, beliefs, and worldviews into their pottery. In addition, they embodied they working skills and practical experience of their people as well, in working clay and firing ceramics. Moving forward!


Let’s start with materials. For this one, we are going to make pit-fired earthenware, which is the oldest type of ceramic we know of. In short, unfired pottery is put into a pit, and lit on fire. That means the temperatures are low (usually below 800 degrees Celsius, or below 1470 Fahrenheit). It also means there are not many materials needed. For this how-to, I used the following;

  • A pit
  • Two cinder blocks
  • A piece of metal mesh
  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Pottery pieces to be fired
  • An oven (optional)

That’s it, so lets get started.

Step 1 – Pre-baking (Optional)

Before I get to firing the pottery in the pit, I throw them the pieces to be fired into the oven. First, an hour or so at 400 F, and then I turn up the oven to 500 F for another hour. Even though the pottery is air dried when it hits the oven, the reason I do this is to drive a little more water from the pieces before firing. This is an optional step, but I find it helps a lot with survival of the pieces. In addition, any really bad pieces won’t survive this step, so it helps weed out those pieces too without wasting wood and effort.

(Pottery after pre-baking, ready for the pit!)

Step 2 – Digging the pit, chopping the wood

(Gettin’ wood)

This is the most straightforward part of pit firing. You need yourself a pit, which is basically just a hole in the ground. Site this away from dry flammable stuff, and find yourself a shovel. For this demonstration I used a pit about the width and depth of a five gallon bucket. It doesn’t have to be huge, as long as you aren’t firing too many pieces. If you already dug a pit for my first tutorial, congratulations, you don’t have to duplicate the effort.

You will also need wood. Not too much since we are starting small, but larger pits = more fuel. Chop chop! Smaller pieces work better in smaller pits.

Step 3 – Prep the pit

(Pit, ready to go)

Once the pit is dug, you have to prepare it for firing. As you’ve might notice, I put two cinder blocks on either side of my tinder and kindling. The reason for this is important. You want the heat to hit the bottom of your pottery. Trust me on this, otherwise you will get only partially fired bottoms. The point of the cinder blocks is to have something to put my pottery rack on top of, so the fire is all around the pieces, and thus heating them from all sides. I didn’t start with a lot of wood in my pit, because you want the temperature to raise somewhat slowly. If you go right to a big, raging fire, some pottery might explode due to unequal heat. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Step 4 – Fire!

(Lighting fire with the power of the sun! Animism at work… Or play? )

Alright, so now it’s time to light the fire. I like to light my fires with a little convex lens and a box of tinder. If you read my previous post on The Spirits of Fire you might be able to guess why that is. If not, in short in Finnish animism, fire is a child of the sun. There’s practical spirituality there.

Also, once I lit the fire, I had to quickly (yet, carefully) place my rack of pottery onto the fire. That way, the fire was underneath my pottery. Then, over the next couple of hours, I built up the fire and maintained it. There is some finesse here, because you want to maintain a constant temperature, without crushing your pottery. Build the fire up gradually, maintain it at a peak, and then let it cool down slowly. I probably used bigger wood than I should of this time around, though thankfully I didn’t crush anything. Knocked one piece over once or twice though.

Pit fires only get so hot, so overheating isn’t too much of a risk. Once you’ve burned around your pottery for an hour or two, feel free to let the fire die down. Then let the pottery cool for several more hours. It will take a while, so don’t rush it. Pottery likes to explode under unequal heat conditions, which means it warms up too fast, or cools too fast. Be patient. I know, it’s hard. When your pottery is cool to the touch, feel free to remove it.

Step 5 – Pit Fired Pottery, hopefully

Once my pottery is cooled, it’s time to give it a look over. 50% loss rate is about normal, so don’t be surprised if you lose about half your pottery. This is good to keep in mind when you are making and shaping it from clay, not to get attached to any one piece. It may well be the one that blows up. If you really like a particular design or specific pot, make a few of them. That helps to ensure you will get at least one on the other side of the fire.

This is where I tend to ‘test’ my pieces, and give them a good look over. Sometimes there will be broken pieces, sometimes small hairline cracks. I will tend take at least one piece from each batch and get it wet. A little at first, then a full submersion. If it turns back into mud, it didn’t fire completely. If not, congratulations, you have pit fired ceramic! Also, bubbling is totally normal for earthenware, they’re porous after all. Water will drain through them, albeit slowly.

I also want to draw your attention to a couple of details throughout this process. This is where the real artistry of pit firing comes in! Pit firing creates unique ceramic pieces that vary a LOT in color and patterning. The nature of the fire, and the clay, makes each piece one of a kind. Iron minerals in the clay make the rich reds you see in my pieces above. Burning wood and charcoal creates black colors. You noticed I added green grass to my fire, creating more grays/blacks/browns. Minerals, salts, metals, all kinds of materials can be added to the fire to create different colors, especially on white clays.

Some of my pieces have small cracks, or broken bits. I hope to add an extra layer of artistry; by fixing some of those cracks with colored resin. In the tradition of kintsugi, except I’m not using gold… Paints and other things can be added for extra artistry!

Experiment, and enjoy!

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References; (A great list of colorants for your pottery!)

Spirits of Fire

Hello again everyone!

It is good to be writing again, at least in some regular fashion. I don’t remember if I mentioned it here or not, but some months ago my work schedule changed and my writing output went to nearly nothing. I’ll be honest, keeping up with any kind of writing has been hard, even though I have been able to get out a couple of pieces in the past couple of months. Suffice to say, there is a fair bit of work in the backlog that I hope I can get to soon.

So let’s talk about the backlog, just for a bit of an update. In the next few posts, I have a couple of more posts for my ‘practical skills’ series. The first will be about pit firing pottery, and the second will be about making charcoal. I ran through these processes recently, so have plenty of pictures of the process ready for posting. I just have to get them written up. In addition, I have folklore posts, such as the one today. In addition to the one for today, I also have two others in the pipeline, one about iron, and one that is more a compilation piece that starts to pull the wayward posts together.

Later on in the year, there is also work on two longer manuscripts, a non-fiction piece, and another novel. Work, work, work! Did I mention how excited I am to be writing again?


With that all out of the way, let’s jump right into it. Today, I want to talk about the Fire People. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are called the tulen väki. The Fire People encompass not only the physical nature of fire, but also the more spiritual aspects as well.

Fire, and use of fire, has been ubiquitous throughout our history. The earliest evidence of the use of fire by Homo erectus is almost 2 million years ago. Since then, fire has been instrumental in cooking, protection from predators, and even humans migration to cold climates and every environment across the globe. Fire is a foundation of our society even today, and near the heart of our industrial civilization. Everything from internal combustion engines, to blast furnaces is dependent on fire. Whether for energy, fuel, or food; fire is absolutely essential to human life.

(From Wikipedia, National Museum of Mongolian History)

If you have ever spent any time sitting around a fire, you also know something of it’s spiritual qualities. Some of the most in depth conversations I have ever had happened around a fire. This speaks to the complex nature of the tulen väki, that speaks straight to our own spirits, but also to the forces of creation of destruction.

Like many spirits, fire can sustain life as well as take it away. It can be the devastation embodied in the forest fire, or the healing present in a hot meal, or the healing warm airs of the sauna. Hey, this is Finland we are talking about saunas here. Fires were at the heart of many community festivals in Finland, going back to at least to the Iron Age, and probably well into the animistic past. Fire, and the Fire People, were the source of community well being, and everyone had to bring something from the village to contribute to the flames.

The Origin of Fire

Lightning, fire from the heavens!

In Finnish folklore, we even have stories about the Origins of Fire. Now, keep in mind that folklore is not always consistent, and can be told in different ways at different times and places. So there are several different themes that run throughout the folklore. Here I’ve just presented a stripped down version of my own to keep things brief.

Louhi of Pojhola had stolen the sun, stolen the moon

The world was dark, the world was cold

The spirits stalked about the heavens, wondering

Why so dark, why so cold?

One took up a the tinderbox, struck fire on the steel

Struck once, struck again.

Fire burst forth, and was taken by the spirits of the air

It was rocked in the cradle, rocked in infancy

Someday there would be a new sun, growing into a new moon

But the cradle tipped, and fire fell to earth

It streaked from the heavens, fell in the forests

Burned acrossed the world, and fell in Lake Alue.

To be swallowed by a fish, eaten whole and hidden.

Alright, so that’s my version. It’s not anything fancy, but gives you all a rough outline. The poetic version(s) can be found in the Kalevala, and is much longer and more robust. There are also several different themes, many that date from early shamanism of Finland. After the Sun and Moon was stolen, fire was created in the heavens, and fell to earth (as lightning), where it started a forest fire.

Ilmarinen struck the fire, Väinämöinen flashed with a multicolored snake, with three eagle

feathers above six bright canopies, above nine heavens/ above a steep cloud edge…

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

Rolled on the fire-ball, over marshes over lands, burned the earth, burned the Underworld/

burned half of Northland…

Here we see the themes that roll through the folklore about the Origin of Fire. Two well known cultural heroes strike fire in the heavens, and it falls to the earth as lightning (multicolored snake), or perhaps is shot to earth as an arrow (three eagle feathers). Fire too is considered the son of the Sun, and that when fire comes to earth in can be devastating. The Fire Folk are also the ‘middle brother’ in the tribe of common spirits. This is from the Origin of Iron;

Air is its first of mothers, water the eldest of brothers

iron the youngest of brothers, fire in turn the middle one.

(Kalevala, Magoun Translation)

I could go on of course, because above is only the barest selection from all the stories about fire in Finnish folklore. Many stories tell of the relationship between the humans and the fire, in terms of managing forests, clearing land for agriculture, burning charcoal or pine tar, and especially smithing and the forging of iron and other metals. We will be talking about the Iron Folk in a future post.

(Retired blast furnance for iron making in Spain, from wikipedia.)

I am a blacksmith myself, and in many ways, someone who learned about animism in the forest. I love the naturalistic aspects of Finnish folkore and animism, and the same is true of the tulen väki. I have a great deal of experience working with fire; spiritually as well as practically. I have tended campfires, forges, charcoal grills, and even make my own pottery and charcoal as well. As I mentioned up above, those practical skill write-ups are forth coming. Since fire is at the center of those posts, it made sense to write about the Fire People first.

I have just scratched the surface with this one, and there will be a lot more to come. At least with this briefest of introductions, you will have a better understanding of the spirituality and animism that underlies the coming ‘how-to’ posts, which both involve fire.

As always,

Thanks for reading!


Sarmela, Matti “The Finnish Folklore Atlas”

Lonrott, Elias. Maguon Jr, Francis Peabody trans. “The Kalevala”

Making Clay from Dirt

Making Clay from Dirt

Hello again folks!

I hope you are all doing well! I am still in quarantine until the end of April, so I have found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I would tell you I have been getting a lot of writing done, but that isn’t really true. Getting a little done around the house, but not much to tell beyond that.

Which I why I wanted to start posting about practical skills. It gives me something to write about, and I get to share with you all things I have learned over the year. It’s a way for me to teach and share, without having to leave the house. It also keeps me busy, and keeps me from going stir crazy.

Before we jump into the deep end here, I wanted to say that I do this writing free of charge. I don’t want to put this kind of writing behind a paywall or a Patreon. Much of this I learned free on the internet, and then experimented with it, and I want to offer it to you the same way. That being said, this kind of work is… well.. work. It takes a fair bit of labor to type this all out for you. So, if you want to donate $5 or whatever to help support me, my Paypal is here. Again, not required, but donations are appreciated!

About Clay and Soil

Now, for a little bit of background. Soil varies a lot, and can come with all kinds of different compositions, textures, and mineral content. The soil outside your door may be very different than mine, and it helps to have a familiarity with that. You may have a clay rich soil, and this could be an easy process. Or you can have real sandy soil like mine, and so for every bit of clay you produce, you are guaranteed to have more sand than you know what to do with…

Without going into too much detail (I’m trying to keep this short, so I may expand on this in another post), clays are the result of mineral weathering, when certain rocks and minerals break down and leach into the soil. One of the chief producers of clay is water. Specifically, low energy water. (Low energy deposition is the technical term.) Think slow moving rivers, lakes, and especially wetlands. Some of the best clay I have ever dug came from a swamp! So if you have a river or a lake nearby, those will probably yield the best clays. But you may be able to get it out of your backyard as well!

Faster waters tend to flush clay minerals downstream, and into river deltas and things like that. Clay has been easier for me to find in low energy water bodies, and so the clays are all deposited on site, in river banks and such.

Clay is formed when water breaks apart rocks, minerals, and soil; and separates out the clay minerals. This are tiny particles that are smaller than gravel, sand, or even silt. It’s the very fine nature of the clay minerals that gives clay their distinct plasticity. That is why our ancestors learned to cast, shape, and mold clay into all kinds of cermamics and pottery!

A Little Animism

Again, without going too much in depth, as a practicing animist, it goes without saying that working with the earth and with clay has a deep spiritual component for me. The Earth is the planet from which all life we know shares a common heritage and ancestry. Digging into the soil is creating a close relationship with the Earth, and deepening that connection. As a former archaeology student, the land beneath our feet is in a very real the living memory of the Earth, the layers of geology and human prehistory are like memories of the planet. More than this, clays and ceramics are one of the oldest materials that our ancestors learned, and for me the process is a deep way of connecting with them as well. This could also be a whole other article in itself, but I wanted to briefly touch on it.


Alright, let’s begin! One of the best parts of digging clay is that is pretty straightforward, and doesn’t have a lot of material needed;

  • Approximately 3 – 5 gallon buckets. (I tend to use about three buckets, but the number varies based on how much you dig.)
  • A shovel. Preferably one with a long handle, for your back and because the hole you dig may get deep.
  • Water. You’ll need water, and a fair bit of it. I use a hose at the back of my house. You can also use an extra bucket or two filled with water.
  • A fine screen. Something with about 1/8 inch holes or so. I literally just have a roll of fine-ish metal mesh from Home Depot. This is for sifting out organic material, rocks, and other debris.
  • A stick. For stirring up mud in a bucket. I use an old shovel handle.
  • 2 or 3 pillow cases. Cheap ones from like Big Lots, or old ones. Nothing too fancy. They will be filled with mud.

Step 1 – Dig Dirt

Now it’s time to dig some dirt. You notice I’ve included a picture for this section. This is a soil horizon, and this is important context for HOW to dig dirt for clay. You don’t really want the first two layers (O & A “topsoil” layers) , as you don’t want all the organic stuff, and at least in my soil, there isn’t much clay in these layers. What you typically want is the B layer, the subsoil. As clay minerals weather, they move down deeper into the soil. The B layer is sometimes called the “banking” layer, because it stores a lot of minerals that can be “withdrawn” later by the plants above. But we are interested in the clay in this layer, so this is what you want to dig. In my own soil, this is a really sandy layer, and pretty easy to dig through. Your mileage may vary.

To start out with, I typically will fill one of my 5 gallon buckets about half way with dirt. You need room for water, afterall. So now, you have a bucket of dirt! Hurray!

(Alright, I have two…)

Step 2 – Make Dirt Slurry

Now that you have your bucket of dirt, it is now time to make a mud shake. Carry your dirt to wherever your water supply is (outside preferably, your housemates will thank you). You want to pour water on top of your dirt, and generally you want more water than dirt. Take your stick and stir it all up! Make yourself a runny mud-shake… The boys won’t show up in your yard for this one. Probably.

The idea here is to completely liquefy your dirt sample. The reason why will become apparent in our next step.

Soup is ready! (Do not eat.)

Step 3 – Screen and Filter

The reason we wanted to make a mud slurry is because it will separate your dirt into all it’s various components. Clay will suspend into the water, organic debris will float, and sand and rocks will sink to the bottom. Now we have to do the work of separating it all out.

This part can get heavy, so heads up. Don’t hurt yourself alright, as buckets of water and dirty aren’t light. Lay your screen/mesh over top of an empty bucket, near to where you made your slurry. Stir it up real good the first time, and then strain the bucket of slurry through the screen and into the empty bucket underneath. The screen will catch a lot of organics, rocks, and even some of the sand. Once you’ve strained it, take the screen somewhere and shake it off, and maybe give it a good rinse.

(Bucket with screen.)

In my experience, you will probably do this step a couple of times. Stir, strain, repeat. If you are using the same bucket over again, be sure to rinse it out before you strain the slurry back into it. Otherwise you’re just putting it back in.

While you are straining, you may notice that the sand settles to the bottom. Getting that out is our next step. The straining will get some of it out, but not all of it. Here, we take advantage of the fact that sand sinks. Stir up your freshly strained slurry, and let it sit a couple of minutes this time. Now pour it back into a clean empty bucket, slowly. The sand will be stuck at the bottom, so don’t pour that into your clean bucket. Dump the sand out, and do it again. Rinse, and repeat as needed, until all you have is mostly clay suspended in water. Again, you may have to do this a few times to get all the sand out.

Typically, I will strain at least twice, and separate the sand out at least twice. As I said before, this can get heavy, so take your time and save your back! If you need to take a break, do so. Stuff may settle, but you can always stir it back up if it settles too much.

(Screening out debris, and leaving behind the sand.)

Step 4 – Pour into Pillow Cases, and hang to dry

When you are all done, you should have a bucket of mostly dirty water. No rocks, debris, or sand should be evident. Depending on the clay content of your soil, this could be a thicker or thinner slurry. Either way, the density isn’t a big deal right now. What matters is you have some amount of clay suspended in water, and free of stuff you don’t want. Now, we have to get the clay separated from the water.

Into the bucket with you!

In a clean empty bucket (likely one you already used, and cleaned. It doesn’t have to be dry, just clean), take one of your pillow cases and use it like you would a trash bag. Line the bucket with it, and pull it over the edges. Pour some of your slurry into this pillow case/bucket combo. Some will leak out into the bucket, and that’s okay. The idea here is most of your clay-water is contained in a filtering pillow case. Now, just hang up that pillow case and allow it to drip out the water.

It is okay if you use more than one pillowcase during this process. In fact, it’s best to not dump a bucket full of clay slurry into one case, break it up. It will dry out faster, and you won’t have to hang up one heavy case full of water!

What will happen is that the clay will settle in a corner of the pillow case, and act as a filter for the water. This works better on warmer days, as the water can evaporate too, leaving just the clay behind in a pillow case.

Mud on a line, wasting all my time…

Also, it’s best not to let it completely dry out. (You can, but then you have to crush up the dried clay into powder, and add water again.) Grab the pillowcase on occasion, and you can tell by touch when the clay is ready. This drying period can take a few days depending on temperature. Also, don’t leave it out in the rain, as that defeats the purpose.

Step 5 – Clay!

Ball of clay!

When your pillow case has filtered out most of the water, all you have to do is turn it inside out and extract the ball of the clay inside. Congratulations, you have made clay from soil! Or maybe not, sometimes it takes a little trial and error to get it right. Sometimes you get clay, sometimes you don’t. I’ve gotten sandy balls of kinda-clay, and things that are best just tossed back into the hole. Soils vary a lot in color, minerals, and clay content. While the backyard is a great place to start, I dig soil from all over the place, and each result is a little bit different.

Each clay can be different too. They can vary a lot in color, plasticity, and how the clay responds to later steps such as throwing, casting, and firing. Some clays will cast great, but throw poorly. Some will throw and coil like a dream, but cast like hell on wheels. Some will fire fantastically (to all kinds of temperature ranges), others will blow up dramatically. There is a lot of trial and error to this, so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go right the first time.

Please feel free to ask questions or ask for clarification as needed. This is my first how-to, and again, that trial and error thing. At the end of this post is a short list of additional resources and Youtube videos, so you can go above and beyond what I have explained here. Google is also a fantastic tool!

As always, thanks for reading!

Additional Resources;

The King of Random – Youtube (This one really helped me get going!)

WikiHow Article

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.


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.


“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.


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.

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….


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!

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!


*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.

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!


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

Random Roundup, 7/1/19


(My milkshake brings all the views to the blog…)

Hello again folks!

It’s been a while since my last update. Work has been crazy busy, and the weather is finally starting to get nice, so I have been spending more time outside than over the past few months. That means the writing has slowed down a bit. Also, if I’m being really honest, I have not known what to write about recently. Writing has been… hard. I’m starting to ease back into it, and I hope to have something soon. I’ll probably be returning to the recent folklore posts I have been working on. Still plenty of ground to cover there.

That said, today I just wanted to do a random roundup for you all, as basically an update/place holder. There has been a lot of great articles lately, and I think a few of them deserve some attention.

First, Animism Does Not Conflict with Science

This should come to a surprise to almost non-one that is a regular reader of this blog. I am a huge supporter of the fusion of animism as a worldview, and Western science. This is a practical, observation based approach that can firmly ground us in the here and now. Both are a way of knowing and relating to the world, and together, they could be something wonderful.

Another example of how animism and science can be remarkably effective together is in the area of climate change and environmental protection. Science has been telling us that the way we treat our planet is a huge problem for a long time, and they’re right. But an emotional and personal experience of the natural world and our relationship to it is so much more compelling than a graph or statistic; when you can experience how interdependent you are with your land and natural world, the concerns about sustainability become unforced; not just intellectual exercises.”

Second, The Price of Renewable Energy is Plummeting

Again, no surprise, that I am a huge proponent of converting our energy systems to renewable energy. I have actually been thinking a lot about energy lately, and what this means for our future. I don’t think we can have infinite growth on an finite planet, and we must do everything in our power to reduce our impact on the planet. Using less energy (efficiency), and moving to renewable sources are two important steps in that direction.

“Renewable power is the backbone of any development that aims to be sustainable… We must do everything we can to accelerate renewables if we are to meet the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement.”

Thirdly; We can design healthier cities

Cities are the heart of our civilization, and by consequence, they are also where we use the most energy and materials. Our consumption, production, and living habits are among many factors contributing to the climate crisis, and taking a fresh look at how we live, especially in cities, can go a long way towards a more sustainable future.

By some estimates, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions: a figure sure to increase as the global migration from rural to urban areas continues. In the pursuit of exploring new models for how healthy cities could more effectively sustain these demands, Dutch design and research studio FABRICations has investigated how cities of the Netherlands can reduce carbon emissions through new design-led approaches.”

Last, but certainly not least, we need sustainable visions of the future

Imagination is a wonderful tool, and it takes big visions to change the world. Those visions can be turned into strategies, and those strategies into goals. By using visions to create goals, we can then start building a better future for all; one step, one checkbox at a time. The linked article is another vision in a growing collection of visions for a sustainable future, and I for one believe the more the better. No one vision will accurately predict the future, but that’s not the point. The point is to a give us a range of options, tools in the toolbox, so that every community can find out what works best for themselves. That way, a more ecological and sustainable future has the rich soil it needs to evolve and grow organically.

In three years of research and interviews, what emerged were solutions that improve health, income inequality, security and communities with the bonus of drastically reducing emissions and regenerating ecosystems. These solutions include decentralised solar micro-grids in remote villages that allow the buying and selling of energy between homes and keep money in the local economy. They include regenerative agriculture practices which takes carbon from the atmosphere and returns it to the soil with the cascading benefits of water retention and nutrient-dense food…

But perhaps the most poignant solution I came across was the wide-reaching impact the education and empowerment of girls and women would have.

It is clear we have everything we need right now to create a better 2040.”

The last line is worth repeating; we have everything we need right now. The trick is making it work for everyone.

As always, thanks for reading! I hope to have something new for you in the next couple of weeks!

Built Resilience (Week 11)

(Image from Here)

This is my last post in the Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie, at least for the time being.

Today I want to jump right into it, and explore the question posed for this week’s (okay, I’m several weeks behind) prompt;

How do we engage with the built and cultivated environments (e.g., urban areas, domesticated plants, gardens) as we address climate change and build resilience?

Like so many of the questions in this project, this one is a big one that requires a great deal of nuance to tease out. As an individual, I won’t be able to cover everything, as there have been volumes written about this very topic. Even the briefest summary of the body of work would be well outside of this one blog post.

At the core of this question is the question of civilization. Ten thousand years ago humans started to build the first cities, as agriculture allow the creation of permanent settlements. This was a big change from the hunter-gatherer existence that preceded it. Agriculture and civilization brought about changes in diet, in culture, and even in the human physique. Some of those cities succeeded, such as Athens and Damascus, which have been continually occupied for thousands of years, even to the current day. Others failed, overtaxing their environments and eventually turning to dust.

This gets to the heart of the fact that our built environments, our cities, are complex creations. The ability of people to congregate into urban environments brought with it an increase in complexity, for good and for ill. Complexity allowed for more human energy to be channeled into the creation of great monumental works, and also allowed for specialization. As not every person had to be directly involved in food production, it opened up tasks like priest work, astronomy, and the invention of writing. It also allowed for a class of crafters and artisans as well as merchants. People that could focus full time on creating art, as long as they were able to trade their own goods for food from farmers.

But this specialization came with a dark side, in the form of stratification. Some specializations were considered to be ‘better’ that others, and so the creation of civilization also brought with it hierarchy, stratification, and inequality. In many ways, civilization brought with it the creation of a cultural elite, an entire class of people that set themselves apart from the rest and considered themselves ‘better’ than the average folk. Sedentary existence, in a way that hadn’t existed before, also allowed these elites to hoard huge surpluses of food and wealth. Inequality was almost a feature of civilization, not a side effect.

More than this, even in modern times, cities are huge pits for resources and energy. Almost half of the world population now lives in cities, and this requires importations of material as well as energy. Urban centers often are far away from required minerals and ores, and often don’t have the land space to create their own food, which urban areas then have to rely on rural areas for.

This has lead some thinkers to suggest that civilization is by it’s nature inherently unsustainable. If a city has to rely on the import of outside materials, it cannot be sustained, at least that is how the argument goes. But I don’t think that is true. If cities like Athens and Damascus have been around for thousands of years, through wars, famines, the rise and fall of empires, then I have to question what such arguments mean by ‘sustainable’. If thousands of years worth of continuous existence through the worst calamities nature and humanity has to offer isn’t sustainable, then I want to know what the hell is?

But this is not to deny the fact that urban living has a large environmental impact and ecological footprint. As much as we have examples such as Athens and Damascus, we also have examples such as Sumer and Easter Island. Civilizations that exceeding the carrying capacity of their environments.

What makes the difference? Why does one civilization manage to survive thousands of years, while another collapses into dust? That is another big question, which probably doesn’t have an easy answer. Still, it goes without saying that I think some measure of resilience is at the heart of it. Cities that have the ability to weather and adapt to rapidly changing conditions, such as war, drought, or famine, are probably off to a good start.

In many ways, I think cities are at the heart for the mitigating the climate crisis. Unlike Nations, which can frequently get paralyzed on climate issues (looking at you, United States), cities can respond on the ground with ideas and projects that directly affect the resilience of the communities around them.

(Image from Here)

For example, cities can pursue renewable energy and community microgrids. This can eliminate to constant need to import coal, natural gas, or uranium for power plants. Cities can also create policies that encourage energy conservation and efficiency. Also, cities can pursue methods for self reliance, such as building with renewable materials such as wood, bamboo, or even hemp. Cities by their nature can effect everything from transportation to energy.

In addition, with the introduction of urban agriculture, and massive green spaces cities can start to produce more of what they need locally. Add in things like walkable cities, public transportation, and many other things cities can directly effect; and it is clear cities can be at the heart of the creation of an ecological and sustainable existence for our species.

I just recently joined my local city’s environmental commission, which is tasked with making policy recommendations to the city council. We have already started to work on reviewing other townships and cities environmental plans, in order to find models that could possibly work for our own city and community. There are countless examples of what sustainability and resilience could look like in cities, and all of this creates feedbacks. In the ‘social laboratory’, if one community has a good idea that works well, other communities can copy it and make it their own. One sustainable city can snowball into thousands. Individually, one city can’t mitigate the worst of the climate crises. But as one part in a network of thousands, the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.

There is no shortage of thing we can do in our built environments to improve resilience and sustainability. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, the ideas well exceed this one single post. There are ideas at the global level, national ideas, and especially local/municipal ideas. Just look at some examples such as Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Singapore.

Everything we do, from living to building cities has an impact on the environment. There is no such thing as a free lunch. That said, we can select for policies in our cities and communities that have the lowest impact we can come up with. We can select for materials that are less carbon-intensive, and the same is true for energy, resource, and even food systems. We can start to bring nature and the ‘rural’ back into our cities. Our cities should look at act more like natural ecosystems, powered by the sun, wind, and water, and producing and consuming materials in a circle with as little waste as possible. In other words, we need to realize that human cities are ecosystems in their own right, and are not removed from the greater biosphere of the planet. We, as humans and as a civilization building species, are part of the planet, not separate from it.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky dream or a flight of fantasy, but something that is happening right now. Another world is possible, and I think we have the means and ability to make that ecological and sustainable world a reality. A built environment that is almost indistinguishable from its natural environment, and a world created to last the next thousand years.

As always, thanks for reading.

Spiritual Community, Ecologic Community (Week 9)

(Image by Jessica Perlstein, as concept art for Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing, curiosly a widely cited book in both paganism and solarpunk 🙂 )

Hello again folks!

This post is another prompt by the ongoing Deepening Resilience Project organized by Syren Nagakyrie. I’m a little bit behind, so I hope you will forgive me on the delay for this one. Some genius around here decided to take on a solarpunk novella project that is due June 1st. Yes, that ‘genius’ is me, and yes that was sarcasm. It would seem I am glutton for writing-based punishment.

All the same, I think the question today is an important one, and I certainly have a lot to say on this topic!

How can we work with the spirits of land, deities, and ancestors as we address climate change and build resilience?

I would like to jump right into the deep end with this one, so first I want to start with a basic understanding of how I relate to the concepts of spirits, deities, and ancestors. For starters, I would probably best describe my spirituality as a kind of naturalistic animism; the intersection of science, spirituality, and big ‘s’ Story. It is a path grounded firmly in physical reality, but with plenty of room for awe, inspiration, and reverence. It is a relational path that asks us to consider ourselves as agents in a much bigger, much more complex, cosmic system.

I don’t default to supernatural explanations for my spiritual understanding of that complexity. There is no ‘Otherworld’, or ‘outside’ beings in my cosmology. There is the here and now, the physical beneath our feet, and the wonderful, complex, and marvelous universe we happen to inhabit. Spirits, ancestors and deities are here for me, not beyond some mysterious spiritual veil, nor residing in some spirit-only “spiritual plane”. There is no Veil, except maybe the one we pulled over our own eyes. If the spirits are hidden from us, it’s because we’ve become infected by self-inflected blindness. We have simply refused to see them, and that is our own fault, and perhaps of the very monotheistic worldview we have been raised in.

That means that how I relate to spirits is very much grounded in practical knowledge and experience. I am a hunter, a hiker, and all around person of the outdoors. I like to swim, to walk, and to kayak. I love archery, as well as anthropology and archaeology. I have one foot in the past, one in the present, and an unaccounted for third foot in the future.

I see the world as something intrinsically filled with creativity, with life, and with agency. The basic drive of the universe is to create, to make new and mysterious forms with basic parts formed in the hearts of long dead stars. To take those parts, and to create planets which like the Earth, eventually have life emerge from them. This is not a linear process, nor one dictated by some almighty outside god. It has starts and stops, failures, and restarts. I have no idea if it has any kind of ultimate goal, but that doesn’t take away from the deeply spiritual nature of that experience. To be the result of billions of years of creativity is a hell of a spiritual experience. I’m scavenged parts from a dead star, a bit of the cosmos, having a very Earthly and human experience. That’s wild and wonderful.

Earth is a planet that was born in fires of Sol, our local star. A planet of countless cultural names, orbiting of star with just as many names. My cosmology is rooted in complexity, and complex systems. Systems like forests that have a life and spirit all their own. Rivers, who are far more than just fish poo and water. Entire complex networks of deer, dirt, and other denizens that in totality starts to look a lot like a living, breathing, being. This extends to me for to the whole Earth, the only planet we know of with a robust biosphere, and an intelligent civilization building species.

Ancestors are still with me, deep in my own DNA, and buried into the collective memory the Earth as a living being. A living planet, the child of the Sun, which is another link in the ancestral tree that goes back to beginning of Creation, of our Universe, as a whole. Even grounded solidly in nature, my spiritual path is full of ancestors, forest and river gods, and spirits from the Whitetail Deer to Hydrogen Atoms, and everything within and beyond that.

As such, working with spirits, deities, and ancestors is as much a practice of science and ecology as it is practice of spirituality. With my gods existing in forests and rivers, my ancestors in my blood and bones, as well the earth around me, and the spirits I work with being in part, the totality of a living biosphere; climate change is a crisis for all of them. For all of us, as it is for the whole living, breathing being of the planet. Gods, ancestors, and spirits; are all part of this process. The climate crisis threatens millions of species of organisms, as well as ourselves.

The Climate Crisis is a Global Crises, and no one, not even our spirits and ancestors, get a pass on this one.

A loss of a habit is the loss of innumerable spirits; the death of forest and river gods. Logging, industrial waste, plastics in our oceans, that is Threat to them as much as it is to me. For me, that has resulted in deeply painful experiences that run the gamut of human emotions, and non-human emotions that I can translate. The gods of the forest are just as angry as we are, just as scared. Others are angry, and blame us for where we are now. I don’t blame them for that, as we fuel up the bulldozers for another oil pipeline.

One of the big problems associated with the climate crisis are climate refugees. People displaced by raging fires and rising seas. But most of rhetoric on the crisis only includes human refugees. From an animistic perspective, is has been happening for a longtime. How many non-human persons have been displaced? How many fish, how many birds, how many trees? How many megatons of earth have we scrapped clean of deep buried memories? How many ancestors have been dug up and taken away into colonial museums?

Human and non-human communities are already being displaced, already being forced into extinction by human-driven climate change. Habitat loss is spiritual loss, and that breaks down communities and the relationships that joins them together. There is deep trauma there, and deep grief. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet as well. I don’t think any of us get out of this clean, without scarring.

But climate refugees, broken habitats, and broken communities is not where this ends. As a bit of an optimist to a fault, being aware of the problem is only the first step. Looking with eyes unclouded at all we have done and articulating the raw scale and scope of the problem is only the first step. Once we’ve framed the problem, and gods is it planetary, then we can start to see what needs to be done. That is the Work that we all have to do.

From an animistic perspective, we start to realize that the scope of this problem is big, really big. It is a crisis of communities, in the widest and broadest sense of the word. The destruction of non-human communities, ecological communities, to fulfill our own needs is what brought us here. The Work that needs to be done is taking a step back away from that precipice.

(Artist credit, AJ-Illustrated)

We can start by epicly scaling up the rebuilding of communities. Not only for human communities but for non-human ones as well. Maybe by making half the planet into a nature preserve. That would certainly go a long way towards giving non-human communities the space they need to rebuild as they see fit. Ecosystems are amazing like that. If we give them the space, the forests and rivers will come back. Maybe not the same as they were before, but they will rebuild.

Yet, the crisis is also a lot bigger than that. The scale of transformations we need to make cut across our own communities as well. The science is clear at this point, and we need to change our political, economic, and social systems to have a chance at navigating our way through the climate hell storm. There are countless numbers of technical, economic, and social ideas on the table. Wind turbines, carbon pricing, ‘rights of nature’, hydrogen fuel cells… There is no silver bullet, but a lot that can and needs to be done.

In addition to giving space for natural communities to do their own thing, we can also embark on large public works project; such as habitat restoration. Creating new forests and wetlands, rehabilitation of old mining sites, and wide reaching preservation of the biomes across the planet. More than this, we can also embark on the great Work of building a truly ecological and sustainable civilization.

Our cities and communities are spirits in their own right, the gods inhabit our cities if you prefer. They are also huge systems of matter and energy, human-created ecosystems. Cities especially really start to look a lot like living beings from an animistic perspective. Adaptation is part of evolution, and it is time for our cities to evolve. A big first step would be inviting non-humans back into our cities. Urban gardens, green roofs, urban agroforestry, and expansive green infrastructure in place of the gray of parking lots.

By producing more of what we need within our cities, as well as using natural solutions to clean air and water, we can reduce the impact of our own communities. Growing food within cities means less in fuel and pollution to import food. Growing materials such as wood, hemp, and bamboo, we have to produce and import less concrete and steel. By creating decentralized and localized systems of renewable energy, we can create more resilient cities in a less certain future. Wide scale grid failures would become a thing of the past with networks of decentralized and distributed community scale microgrids.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say there is a lot that can and should be done. Spirits are in our ecosystems and in our communities. Gods can be found in our cities and forests. Ancestors are within ourselves as well as part of the deep memory of the Earth. The Work that must be done includes everyone. A large part of that of that work is rebuilding relationships with each other, and rebuilding communities whether they are human, animal, or plant. In short, working with the spirits, deities, and ancestors, is the act of creating a sustainable planetary community for everyone.

Thanks for reading!