Category Archives: Culture

Shaping a Living World: Part 1

In addition, there is a deeper and more profound change that is needed. Fundamentally, we believe that a change in spirit is required, one that fosters a new relationship between humanity and other species and Earth as a whole. As Pagans, we believe we are well situated to help imagine and create a future in which humanity lives in greater harmony with the rest of our planet.“Pagan Statement on the Environment

We face a lot of challenges with the future ahead, climate change just being one among them. As an animist, I am asked to engage; with the planet and with my community. My animism is both nature-centric, as well as human-centric.

It is people-centric (human and not), and because it is relational ignoring the greater problems in our communities and world is not an option for me. Being an animist means I need to think about where we have come from, and where we are going.

It asks me to imagine a better future tomorrow, for everyone. So now I have to ask myself, what would my future look like?

This is a pretty complex question to ask, and it is at the heart of this series. The answer to this question is informed by both my spirituality as well as my values, and the two are deeply integrated and intertwined. Both will be discussed over the course of this series, so that I can explore these things more deeply.

That being said, I have thus far been impressed with the ideas of social democracy, especially the Nordic model. Much of the data and information we have suggests that it is one of the better social models in the world, and the Nordics are consistently ranked as some of the most prosperous and happiest people in the world. As such, the values of social democracy will be central to this series.

In addition, I think that global problems require a global response, and many of the issues we face such as climate change are certainly global issues. As such, I found the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals a good mesh with many of my values. 193 nations representing a majority of the population of the planet have worked on the SDG’s, and therefore it provides us a road map that is agreed upon by consensus, because there is “no planet B.” Those too will form a way in which to frame this series.

Also, I believe firmly that our future as a species must be a sustainable one. For that reason another big part of project will be Drawdown, which is one of the most comprehensive plans to date on how to combat climate change. It will form a big part of this project as well.

All that said; I am a dreamer as well as a realist. I am going to be tempering myself with a healthy dose of skepticism and pragmatism. I will try my best to focus on what we can do today, or at least in the near future. We need solutions now, and so we cannot place our hope in some far off ideal.

As such, it must be kept in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect solution. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I am not dreaming up a Utopia here, as such a world is not possible at the current time. At very least, I simply want to emphasize the fact that we can, and must do better. The future is bleak indeed if we don’t try.

Without further ado, let’s talk about the first of the Sustainable Development Goal; No Poverty

One of the core philosophies of my animism is that the needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few. We can and should make a concentrated effort on making sure no single persons goes without. It implies not only do we have to do better for our most vulnerable, it in some way implies we must.

Sustainable Development Goals

Some of the highlights from the SDG’s include;

By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day

By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions

Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.”

This is a huge global effort, and it will take a lot of policy decisions that I have not the space to write about here. Some of these decisions will happen on the local level, some regional, some national, and some on the international level. I like the EU’s principle of subsidiarity, in which decisions should happen at the level they are most effective.

On this ground, I think the Nordic model of Social Democracy has some insights to offer, and ideas we should look at more closely.

Social Democracy

That being said, I think the model of social democracy is on to some very important aspects that help to eliminate extreme poverty in our society. The USA in particular is behind the ball on a lot of these points, and have a deplorable track record of treating our vulnerable poorly.

According to the OECD, the 2012 poverty rates for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland stood at 9 percent, 5.4 percent, 8.1 percent and 6.5 percent respectively….

The “Nordic Model” presents a starting point for other countries to develop methods to attack poverty as they work towards sustainable development.” – Borgen Project

Universal Healthcare – This is one of the most important things we can do for our most vulnerable. We need to frame health care as a right, not a privilege that only those with the means can afford. Every single person should not have to make the choice between health and bankruptcy. Considering one of the SDG’s involves healthcare, I will say no more on this for now.

Universal Education – This one is another big part of the puzzle that comes into play when trying to eliminate poverty. People end up in poverty for a lot of reasons, unemployment and displacement being among them. Universal Education (including Higher Ed and Trade/Vocational Skills) gives people the option of retraining, or any other type of personal advancement. Education is also among the SDG’s (which are all deeply intertwined), so let’s move on.

Universal Basic Income – The idea of UBI is still being explored, but the concept is simple; give everyone in a society a basic income just for existing. The idea being that a person has the right to have their basic needs met, primarily food and shelter. A person would receive a basic stipend to use however they wanted, no strings attached. It is being tested in Finland and several other areas, and some of the results are already starting to show;

“Not only could UBI replace the income lost as automated systems continue to replace human workers, experts also believe that having such a safety net would spur more innovation as the fear of failure would be reduced. People equipped with the knowledge that they will be able to provide for themselves should they fail will be more willing to take bigger risks, which could result in a spike in innovation that would help us all. “

UBI could help eliminate the “scarcity mentality”, and help people out of poverty and increased equality all around. I will be watching the idea as it unfolds with interest.

Drawdown

Getting rid of poverty in our societies with require social, cultural, and well as political changes. A change in spirit. It will also require technological solutions, and here we visit a few of the solutions from Drawdown that can really make a difference in the life of impoverish communities and people. They also help the planet at the same time. Please note that many of these solutions will appear under other Sustainable Development Goals, as I get to them.

Energy;

Rooftop Solar – http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/energy/rooftop-solar

In rural parts of low-income countries, they can leapfrog the need for large-scale, centralized power grids, and accelerate access to affordable, clean electricity—becoming a powerful tool for eliminating poverty. “

Impoverished people all over the world, especially in the Global South, often don’t have reliable access to electricity. While this is a complex issue with a lot of nuance that I will not be able to cover here, one of the solutions proposed by Drawdown with a lot of promise for fighting poverty is Rooftop Solar. It is ranked in the top ten of most effective solutions, with a reduction of 20.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2050. As many people in poverty globally are often found in Africa and South Asia, rooftop solar provides a reliable option that fights poverty and climate change at the same time.

Micro-wind – http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/energy/micro-wind

Ranked # 76 0.2 Gigatons of CO2 Reduction

In lower-income countries, micro wind turbines can help expand access to electricity, giving people a way to light their homes or cook their evening meals, which can avoid emissions from dirty diesel generators or kerosene lamps.”

In addition to rooftop solar, micro-wind can act as a supplement in order to bring electricity to rural and impoverished areas. While the impact is not nearly as large as rooftop solar, it is should not be discounted. It is ranked #76 out of a 100 total solutions by Drawdown, with 0.2 gigatons of CO2 reduction. It could be a vital supplemental energy source for places without grid access, and just like solar the costs are currently plummeting, thus reducing implementation costs and net benefits in the long term.

Micro-grids – http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/energy/microgrids

Microgrids also aid human and economic development. Globally, 1.1 billion people do not have access to a grid or electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In rural parts of low-income countries, populations are best supplied with electricity from microgrids. “

Many rural communities are far away from city centers and centralized grid systems. These communities are often rural, and have low incomes. In combination with rooftop solar and micro-wind (along with other sources), micro-grids have the capacity to bring electrical power to entire communities, and help share the load variability among renewable sources. Overall it is ranked #78 out of a 100.

Food;

Clean Cookstoves – http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/clean-cookstoves

Around the world, 3 billion people cook over open fires or on rudimentary stoves. The cooking fuels used by 40 percent of humanity are wood, charcoal, animal dung, crop residues, and coal. As these burn, often inside homes or in areas with limited ventilation, they release plumes of smoke and soot liable for 4.3 million premature deaths each year.

As much about food will be covered under SDG Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), I have included clean cookstoves here. As I have pointed out above, many rural and poor areas do not have reliable access to electricity or utilities, so often they have to use more traditional cookstoves. By helping to clean up that process, we can aid people in poverty as well as reduce the numbers of premature death annually, as well as improve the health of people.

This solution is ranked #21 by Drawdown, with an overall reduction of 15.81 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

Women & Girls

Women Smallholders – http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/women-smallholders

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land.”

As Gender Equality is one of the SDG’s, I have decided to put this solution here. It is ranked number 62 overall, with a 2.06 gigaton reduction in CO2 by 2050. By giving women an equal share in both income and productive resources on their farms, farm yield would be expected to rise, and this would lead to increased efficiency of land resources, including a lower need for deforestation.

In the next part of this series, we will be looking at the second Sustainable Development Goal, which is Zero Hunger.

Thanks for reading!

Sources;/References;

http://ecopagan.com/

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

http://www.drawdown.org/

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

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

https://futurism.com/finlands-universal-basic-income-program-is-already-reducing-stress-for-recipients/

https://borgenproject.org/why-sweden-has-lower-poverty-rates/


Why We are Here…

Hello there folks,

I’ll start with a few updates. I’ve been real busy lately; writing, editing, and getting ready for my first vending event this fall! As such, I haven’t had a lot of time to keep this blog going. I am also starting another book manuscript soon, so this blog my go into “low power” mode so I can focus on other things. I have a whole series of topics I still want to write about, so I’ll try to get something up here monthly at least. But that is besides the point for today.

For those of you that don’t follow me on Facebook, I often use it as a testing ground to develop my own ideas. Yesterday I turned out some thoughts that have gotten a fair bit of attention, so I wanted to share those with you here. The edited post appears below;

We live in interesting times, times in which existential crises lie seemingly around every corner. These are challenges that will test the very nature of the human spirit. Challenges that not only question who we are, but who we will be. If we survive at all.

The climate is changing. That is a fact. Centuries of cutting down forests and polluting our water and air is coming home to roost. Centuries of exploitation and oppression have come back to haunt us.

I think some very old beings once dwelled in those ancient forests. We cut them down, and we killed them. Those we didn’t, we broke all ties with and exiled. We built an ideological wall between “nature” and “society” so tall and thick that we have all but divorced ourselves from all those old relationships.

Worse still, in this country (USA), we have treated the people (Native Americans, and others) the ones that knew these beings best, the exact same way. We took their lands, killed them, and have perpetuated those cycles ever since.

We destroyed other peoples, and we destroyed ourselves. We became “white”, devoid of any spirit of our own. We died in the process.

I am not the first to say these things, and surely the credit does not belong to me alone.

The amount of work ahead is greater than any one individual, greater than even a single generation. We have to deal with our shit now.

And we are poorly prepared for this. We need allies and the strength of community to face what lies ahead. We have done a fine job of isolating ourselves in the name of “individualism”. We have killed the old gods that were once our allies. Those that are left have no reason to love us. They know what we did, they remember. Why should they help us?

In this country, we cannot assume they are on our side. That is not the case. The land is not on our side.

But, I don’t want you to give up hope. Another world is possible, and it lies on the other side of the horizon. We need all the help we can get, and the amount of work we have to do is tremendous. We will not live to see the end of that work, but it must be done all the same.

I find it no coincidence that there has been a rise in spiritual specialists recently. We were made for this work. We are here to tear down the walls we have built, and to rebuild relationships we have severed. To save what can be saved, and to change what must be changed.

We are here at this time, because our skills are required. Everything we know hangs in the balance.


Tracking as a Way of Knowing: A Commentary

Tracking as a way of Knowing: A Commentary

There has been quite the flood of great material coming out lately, and to be frank I am having a hard time keeping up. Maybe I shouldn’t put the expectation upon myself that I will ever keep up, but at the same time it doesn’t really stress me out all that much. It is more exciting for me than stressful, knowing other people are exploring things along similar lines that I am.

Or at least, I am becoming more aware of that fact.

In addition, it doesn’t help when I feel like I have been dog piled with my own writing projects. As an advanced warning, this blog may go on (semi) hiatus in the near future. There is a longer project starting to poke on prod at me. I may decide to give that project my full attention, but that is up in the air at the moment.

Things have been pretty chaotic in my own life, and I don’t feel like I have had much time to breathe. In addition, the world on the whole has seemed pretty chaotic too. It has all left me feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I’m dealing with that the best I can, and life goes on.

As such, I bring my commentary on a piece I came across lately, called “Tracking as a Way of Knowing” by Sophia Sinopoulous-Lloyd. This particular piece really spoke to both my spirituality, and my practical on the ground skills as a hunter. This is kind of a long commentary, which isn’t usually my habit. Some people just won’t read longer pieces, or don’t have the time to do so. For that, I apologize, but I didn’t want to break this up either.

As such, we start here with this quote from the author;

“One of the central themes in permaculture (as in ecology) is that living beings—both plant and animal—build alliances with each other and form natural communities characterized by certain highly efficient cycles of energy. Part of this efficiency owes to the fact that the structure of ecosystems is the opposite of mechanistic. Everything has multiple functions, and there is no such thing as waste. Naturalist knowledge not predicated on a neoclassical production-oriented view of the environment is critical to the skillful practice of permaculture farming. To this end, tracking seemed to promise a way of beginning to build relationships that lead beyond the boundaries of the homestead and private property, into the wild…”

There are several aspects of this quote that also apply to an animistic worldview. The most obvious of which is that living beings build alliances with each other and form natural communities. This is a foundational part of my own animism; being primarily concerned with people living in relationship with each other. In addition, I love the parallels between my spiritual practice and the patterns of natural ecosystems.

That is part of the reason I am animist to begin with. It runs parallel in many ways to many scientific disciplines, not least among them ecology. To me at least, the natural environment is a social environment, in which many non-human agents are in constant connection with each other, and forming self-organized networks and systems. These systems, whether they are deciduous forests, or wetlands, or watersheds, they tend to be self-organizing, self-regulating, and self-governing. I think there is a great deal to learn about society by studying natural systems.

More than that, as opposed to many mechanical production methods, as the author points out, almost nothing is wasted in an integrated natural ecosystem. Unlike many of our human productions methods, that run linearly from extraction —> production —> consumption —-> waste, natural systems tend to have a higher degree of multilinear networks that continuously cycle material as well as energy.

Lastly in the above quote, the author introduces the practice of tracking as a way to build relationships with the natural world. I cannot agree more, and my own experience tracking has highlighted a lot of the points the author makes. There will be more on that in a moment, but first we have to ask what is tracking? Here the author picks up the thread;

“Tracking is an umbrella term for discerning an animal’s endeavors from the marks it has left on the landscape. Its subdivisions include things like clear print identification, gait and track pattern analysis, trailing (where you follow a particular animal’s tracks to find out other things about it), and identifying other signs of behavior, like feeding or territorial marking. Tracking is not limited to uncovering the past of animals though. We can use the rings on an old tree stump to diagnose an ancient forest fire or a particularly hard winter, and we can examine the topography of the forest floor to discern the effects of a century-old ice storm. Such things leave their own sorts of tracks. Our ancestors didn’t only track things on the earth—they tracked the skies too, charting movement of constellations, the paths of planets, and the phases of the moon, giving us the basis for our understanding of time. “

There is so much more to tracking that simply following animals. There is a lot of knowledge and practical experience that goes into being able to do it well. It is so much bigger than the individual tracks themselves.

I was learning forestry from a very young age, rather or not I realized it at the time. My childhood home was heated with firewood in the winter. This means that I spent a lot of time learning from my dad not only how to cut and move wood, but also basic understandings of forests. How to identify trees, as yes how to read their rings. I have seen first hand evidence of burns, rot, disease, seasons that were wet, seasons that were dry and so on. You began to realize on a holistic scale, that you are part of an unfolding story. The trees, the animals, the plants, all it is part of a story that you are smack in the middle of.

You also realize, as the author points out, that your ancestors understood this too. When I hunt, when I track, when I spend time in the woods it brings me a little closer to their stories. I become entangled in the webs around me, in the unfolding story of the land, sea and sky.

As the author points out, this also included the stars and planets, the Cosmos on a much wider level. Tracking in this way becomes a means of connecting with the past, being in the present, and looking to the future.

That is what my animism is all about, building those connections across time and space. It is learning the stories that bind us to the past, telling the stories in the present, and wondering about the stories of the future. The telling of these stories shapes reality around us, and shapes our position in those stories. Tracking is just another way of learning a story, of what has gone before.

“Hunting especially in a survival situation requires a basic familiarity with tracking. Since then though I’ve put in dirt-time in service of a less particular goal: a glimpse of the unique and specific creatures that live around me. Getting familiar with my non-human neighbors is driven by an open-ended desire for relationship. My wish to track now doesn’t feel so different from my impulse to connect with the spirit-world. After all, the all-but-forgotten root of religion is in part the multifaceted need to relate to something both deeply “Other” and also deeply, invisibly, woven into our lives. The necessity of securing food and resources and the communion with the invisible and holy are not by definition distinct endeavors. In much of human history they have been complementary— they’ve even required each other. The first spirituality had to have been practical.”

As I have mentioned before on this blog, hunting is not something I just do as a practical endeavor. It is deeply interwoven with my spiritual practice, and I love that the author brings up this point; that the first spirituality had to have been practical. It had to work, and there was not a clear seperation between the mundane and the sacred.

Hunting is so much more than wanting to fill the freezer. It is how I connect with the spirits of nature around me, it is how I connect with my ancestors and the Huntress I work with. Hunting and tracking is kind of like following in the footsteps of the sacred, that also has the very practical aspect of putting food on the table (on occasion). It is a deeply connective and affirming practice that weaves me into the Greater around me.

It is, as the author states, a communion between past, present, and future.

It is more than that as well, because it also connects you with the greater cycles of life and death, of nature itself around you. I have followed the game trails, tracked my prey through the great mixed-Oak forests of my homeland, and I learned their habits, learned their stories, and in some cases even gave them names. After all this, after taking part as two dancers in the story of life, that is when I had to decide whether or not to take a life I had come to love.

This is something deeply spiritual, and hard for me to put into words. It is one of those deeper Mysteries of my practice that has to be experienced to really understand. In addition, the moment you decide to release that arrow (I’m a bowhunter), that is when the real work begins.

Suddenly, you are connected to the realms of the Dead. With your ancestors, who stand behind you, and with the ancestors of the prey, who stand before you. All will hold you accountable for what you have done, and that in my experience is where the real work begins. I am accountable for what I have done, and obliged to do everything I can to smooth the transition of Dead to the keeping of their ancestors, which return them into the cycle of life and death. I have to calm the confused spirits, and treat the remains with respect. I have to answer to Ancestors of the slain, and return their fallen kin to their keeping.

These webs go deep, and suffice to say that I am still trying to navigate my way through those entanglements.

To take a brief tangent, it is a common perception among non-hunters that hunters are just barbaric ruthless killers. I’m sympathetic enough to agree with that perception in some cases. By my own standards, and the deep animistic way I approach hunting, some hunters do qualify as barbaric under my view. When you frame hunting as a sport, as a game, as a means to rack up points in the “top predator game”, in my opinion you have missed the point.

Life and death is not a sport. Treating it that way has a noted lack of respect, and denies the deep spiritual practice that our ancestors knew some well. In some way, I think all hunters experience a little bit of that, but the degrees of difference between spirituality and sport are wide enough to float an armada through.

That break, that sundering is an important point in and of itself.

Which brings us back to the article;

“For some, following the tracks left behind by a game animal and courting the divine by following a trail of psycho-spiritual signs exist along the same spectrum of activity, both characterized by a sort of sympathetic allurement. Keeney comments later on how this practical spirituality has been largely lost on the modern world: “As we broke the bonds of relationship and interdependency with one another and disrupted our ecological matrix, our link to the divine mysteries became all but lost.” “

From the first time the “animism” as a concept entered our lexicon, it has been littered with this kind of ideology. Animism as a form of indigenous spirituality was immediately categorized as something “primitive” people did, and not something that had any place in “civilized” society. The entire concept is littered with the relics of imperialism, colonialism, and Eurocentrism.

But the ideology goes back even farther than that, at least as far back as biblical times if not further. The idea that mankind, and our “civilization” is somehow separate and dominant to all others. We have tried our best to sever our connection to nature, as “moderns”, and in the process we have sundered away connections that once defined us.

It is so important we rebuild those bridges, and see ourselves once again as part of nature, as part of a wider natural community. It is imperative think, if we are every going to heal those disrupted matrixes that were once so essential to our lives.

Returning again to the article;

“Tracks glow darkly in the snow like icons, triggering some ancient seeker in us, an invisible string pulling us forward. I often hear an astonished “I could do this for hours!” exclaimed by folks from a wide range of backgrounds who are just learning basic wildlife tracking techniques—confirming that it is far more than just the master trackers among us who are tugged by such strings. The metaphor of the invisible string is well known in some old tracking traditions. Keeney quotes a Bushman hunter explaining the metaphysics of spiritual ropes or strings in the context of tracking:

The ancestors and God can attach a rope to you. When that happens, they are able to pull you to where you need to go; that’s the secret behind our ability to track. A Bushman hunter feels something tapping on his arm when it is time to hunt. It is the ancestors pulling a rope that is attached to our arms. The other end is attached to the animal. We simply follow the pulling of the rope, and it takes us to a kudu, giraffe, eland, warthog, or gemsbok.”

There is an important metaphor here that made me want to jump out of my seat and go “yes!”. The metaphysics that I have talked about so many times here, the ideas of strings or “filaments” that connected everything in the Cosmos.

It is not unusual for me to call up my gods, ancestors and spirits when I hunt. It is really strange to think about how deep of a connection I am building in that moment, when I am tracking. I am creating bridges with the ancestors, the gods, and with the animal I am tracking. I am building relationships and connecting with the past in a deep and profound way, a spiritual way that is like going headfirst underwater. The world changes, and your perception shifts. It’s trance work, in a way, reading the trails and learning their stories…

As the article points out, tracking is way more than just following the physical prints;

“Tracking, it turns out, is nothing less than an epistemology: an ecological way of knowing, a green hermeneutics. It is not just a way of seeing “how things are connected,” it is a discipline that redefines and expands what connection and relationship even is. As such it seems to have something to add to nearly every realm of experience and knowledge—an interdisciplinary skill to the core. It blurs modern distinctions between art and science, because it is at once a contemplative practice and also an empirical and quantitative study. It blurs our distinctions between fact and myth because though it is a deterministic study in physical cause and effect, it inevitably lends itself to forming personal relationships with spectral creatures, telling stories about them, and dreaming dreams about them. Eventually, beings are “known” through their tracks, and archetypes emerge. These archetypes have great value to an ecosystem as ways of mapping the world so that a near infinite number of facts can be codified and passed on to future generations. Tracking is unequivocally poetry and it is also unequivocally ecology—at least as long as we humans are involved—and both dimensions are necessary, two halves of a whole. Tracking always leaves room for Mystery with a capital M—it’s impossible for it not to. Whereas in their most dogmatic guises religion protects Mystery sometimes too fiercely, and science perhaps does not defer to it enough, tracking stands innocuously in the middle as the symbiosis of mystery and knowledge.”

Tracking, as with hunting more generally, is a kind of Mystery that is hard to clearly articulate. It is a liminal practice, where art & science, the mythic & the mundane start to mix and swirl in a many unexpected ways. It is a space where stories are told, and where stories are heard. It is in that un-time, in that un-space that the forest and the world around you becomes alive. You are part of that story, apart of that liminal unfolding as you follow the paths that have been led for you.

Hunting in general has greatly influenced my spiritual practice for this very reason. Being in the woods has, being in that liminal place, that is where the real work can happen. We have tried too hard as “modern” people to seperate our “society” from the “natural”. We cut ourselves off from the sacred when we did that, and we lost a whole part of ourselves in the process. We failed to understand that we are part of that great natural community, and the moment we started to separate ourselves from that, it was like cutting away our senses and our limbs.

We are blind and floating in an empty world.

Returning to the article now;

“Ecologist Dennis Martinez points out that unlike the “biocentric” Euro-American model of conservation and land management, a model that can be drawn from Indigenous methods of land management is what he calls “kincentric”; it neither idolizes nor alienates humans, but cherishes and enshrines the alliances among and between humans, animals, plants, and the earth.”

This is both timely and curious that this idea would resurface here. I am working my way through a shamanic intensive, and I am currently in the classwork on Totemism. Now, as I have said before “totem” isn’t a concept I use much at all in my own practice, partly because it doesn’t feel relevant, and partly because I am wary of cultural appropriation. “Totem” is a corrupted version of an Ojibwa word, and I am frankly just not comfortable using it.

That said, in a grand sense the idea behind Totemism is of one’s “kinship group,” that is the close community of human and non-human nature with which we are surrounded. That is what we are talking about here, the realization that nature is part of ourselves, part of our community, and even part of our “kinship group.”

As I have said on this blog many times, we are related to every thing on this planet in some measure. As such building those relationships and alliances is vitally important not only to our spiritual lives, but also to the future of this planet. Reintegrating ourselves within and as part of nature is a vital change in spirit that is required to fully build a sustainable civilization.

If you want to think of it in a very wide sense, the Cosmos is our distant ancestor, the planet Earth is too. My home state of Michigan is an ancestor too in a very real sense. I was born here, the minerals and soil are in my bones. The plants and animals are part of my flesh, and the Great Waters that surround this state are part of my greater community, they are part of my spirit too.

We need to be giving back and being good members of that community.

I’m going to give the last words to the article;

“The words conservation and ecology, as we use them in the Western sense, don’t exactly fit what Indian people did or do with the land. It was their livelihood, which depended on reciprocity. Thus, the trees were not seen just as trees, they were also seen as relatives. The trees are relatives and other species are relatives and they watched you all the time.

In this view, feelings of solidarity, love, and belonging that traverse the boundaries of species and beyond are not luxuries or overly sentimentalized notions; they are functions of ecological interdependency and are integral to survival. Seeing as the majority of beings on our planet (as well as the rest of the universe) are non-human, we can expect a limited view of reality if we aren’t welcoming efforts to soulfully relate to them. Let us see beyond the jaded (and polarizing) caricature of the nature-hippie who escapes from civilization to the forest. If the intention is not to leave but to enter, not to hide but to belong, relationship with the non-human brings back deep value to human community and enriches culture. This is loud and clear in nature-based spiritualities, but it is also buried in our most dearly held stories…”

It is time to tell those stories once more.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://writtenriver.com/tracking-as-a-way-of-knowing/


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


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!


Updates 2/15/17

“Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
This is not my country
This is not what I believe
Have I awakened
Deep inside some madman’s dream?
I can barely recognize
The place this used to be”

Assemblage 23 – Madman’s Dream

Good evening folks!

Well, it is evening here anyways. I cannot speak to whatever part of the world you may be reading this from. I just wanted to post a (hopefully) quick update blog, so you all can stay in the loop and read about all the exciting things I am working on.

Plus I needed another filler post here as I work to get another post with a little more substance ready…

So here I am, letting you know I haven’t forgotten about you all.

Okay, so here are some updates;

  1. I am coming up on the halfway mark on another manuscript. That’s approximately 35 -40k words for those of you playing the home game. I am working away on a cyberpunk/cybershaman type novel, and I have to say it has really been fun to write so far. I get to play with some pretty interesting topics; such as spirituality, sustainability, and how all that relates to technology. I also really enjoy speculating about what the world might look like in the not-so-distant future.
  2. I have announced it on Facebook, but I will relay that here as well. I have been accepted to write for Paganbloggers.com. Currently I expect that to start moving sometime in March, and I am really excited about this new opportunity. In addition, they are running an Indiegogo to help fund this new site for pagans, by pagans. You can check that out here!
  3. I have finished up editing the fifth book in the Elder Blood Saga. The final book in the series!  I will be getting the artwork for that started in the near future.
  4. I continue to do my best to grow and expand the shop! Have you checked out The White Wolf yet? The link is over there —> It is the home for my writing, crafting, and other work.
  5. Currently, I plan to start a 2+ year shamanic intensive in March. It seems to be the next step in my spiritual journey, and I am anxious/excited to take that next step.

I think that pretty much covers what is going on with me. There is certainly a lot going on in the world, and I’ve been doing my best to keep up with it all. I post a fair bit about many things over on my personal Facebook; not limited to science, spirituality, politics, the environment.. You know a lot of the things I talk about here.

I don’t want to go into that all too deeply here, especially the political bit. Primarily, this is not a political blog. I will delve into that from time to time of course, as it intersects with a lot of what I do talk about here. I think I could even make a fair argument that politics is part of the whole Anthropology thing, as it is concerned with humans; and politics is part of how humans govern one another. There is certainly a case to be made there, as well as topics such as building a sustainable civilization, religious freedoms, and the environment. Plus add the fact that I am sci-fi writer, so on occasion, politics does come up.

There is a lot to say on that front to be sure. The first month or so of the new administration in the US has been… overwhelming. I have been trying my best to keep up, but it seems like every hour something new is breaking. It is also fair to say that many of the things that are coming out of Washington trouble me deeply, and run contrary to many of my views. It just creates this baseline anxiety for me. I’m worried for myself, and my friends and family. Many of them fall into the “marginal” categories, and their rights will be the first to be questioned.

Needless to say, I am part of the resistance. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican, and I have serious questions for both parties. Another Republican in charge wouldn’t have bothered me as much as #45. I never thought I’d wish for Bush Jr back. But truly, the administration of #45 scares me.

But, I am both an optimist and a realist. I am an optimist because I believe that humans have so much potential. I am a realist because I realize the amount of work that it will take to get there. That is why I am trying to stay positive about all this, and inspiring and hopeful as I can. This does not means I don’t think the days ahead aren’t dark.

However #45 is a reaction to 8 years of Obama, and vI like to think that the counterreaction to this administration will be fierce; and the further it tries to push things, the more fierce that counterreaction will be. I also think we will have the opportunity to build a better world on the far side. A more global, interconnected, and sustainable world.

I like this Positive Reframe a fair bit.

But that doesn’t mean there is a lot of hard work ahead of us, and I won’t lie to you and say that work will be all unicorns and rainbows either. People are going to suffer under #45, good people. My people, and I will stand with them.

If you feel called to resist, do so. I will stand for our environment, for science, for my spirituality, and for minorities of all stripes. I don’t know at the current time how far this will go, but I will stand by my values all the same.

Here is a piece I like from Scientific American about resisting.

I particularly like this bit;

“His writings, which have been translated into dozens of languages and are available on the internet, describe a wide variety of tactics: worker strikes, student strikes, mass petitions, underground newspapers, skywriting, display of flags and banners, boycotts of goods, boycotts of sporting events, refusal to pay rent, withdrawal of bank savings, fasts, mock trials, occupation of government buildings, marches, motorcades, teach-ins, pray-ins, ostracism of collaborators, publication of names of collaborators, seeking imprisonment, formation of parallel government and mass disrobing.

Many of Sharp’s methods involve mockery, which the !Kung and other hunter-gatherer groups also employ against the swell-headed.”

Yes, I realize not all these actions are legal. It will be up to each and everyone of us to decide where our “Sacred Cows” are, and what we are willing to risk.

That said, by all means protest. March, rally, strike if you have to. Take a tip from the Natives at Standing Rock, and pray as well as protest. Write, make memes, share reputable news sources, learn the facts, make memes… Do whatever calls to you, and do it.

And hopefully the next world awaits…

 “Build me a future,
Splendid and graceful.
Make it better by design.
Perfected strategies, applied technologies.
A brighter future for a darker age.”

Vnv Nation – Streamline

 


End of Nations? Part 3

Here, we diverge from the idea of the Nation-State, and into what a Post-Nation world might look like. The article points to the European Union as a potential model, a federation of smaller units.

Even so, the EU may point the way to what a post-nation-state world will look like.

Zielonka agrees that further integration of Europe’s governing systems is needed as economies become more interdependent. But he says Europe’s often-paralysed hierarchy cannot achieve this. Instead he sees the replacement of hierarchy by networks of cities, regions and even non-governmental organisations. Sound familiar? Proponents call it neo-medievalism.“

This brings up some interesting points, which I would like to explore more in later works. However, I did come across some thoughts recently that highlight a little more what this kind of world might look like. Here are a few excerpts from An Anarchist FAQ

“The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralized, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighborhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves.

[…]

The key to that change, from the anarchist standpoint, is the creation of a network of participatory communities based on self-government through direct, face-to-face democracy in grassroots neighborhood and community assemblies [meetings for discussion, debate, and decision making].

[…]

Since not all issues are local, the neighborhood and community assemblies will also elect mandated and re-callable delegates to the larger-scale units of self-government in order to address issues affecting larger areas, such as urban districts, the city or town as a whole, the county, the bio-region, and ultimately the entire planet. Thus the assemblies will confederate at several levels in order to develop and co-ordinate common policies to deal with common problems. “

Now, I don’t consider myself an anarchist by any sense of the word, but that does not mean there are not interesting ideas to be found in the context of a post-Nation world. We are in fact talking about here the greater integration and networking of numerous scales of organization. Self-government is definitely one of the ideas I support with democracy, and it is curious that there are interesting parallels between this think and several democratic Nations throughout the world, notably the European Union and the United States.

I am not saying that these democratic structures are anarchic in any way, and I am sympathetic to many of the critiques of those systems. For example, especially in the United States I do feel the governmental structure has become quite self-serving and top heavy as hierarchical institutions. I for one would love to see it reworked to allow for not only greater direct democracy, such as has been outlined above, but also better representation. The idea of “mandated and re-callable” delegations has a certain appeal to it. My own representative government here in Michigan has flouted the will of the people in many important issues, and made no attempt to hide that. And yet, we the people have little recourse to deal with something like that.

I return here to the idea of better intergrated and interdependent networks; in the NewScientist article;

Ian Goldin, head of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, which analyses global problems, thinks such networks must emerge. He believes existing institutions such as UN agencies and the World Bank are structurally unable to deal with problems that emerge from global interrelatedness, such as economic instability, pandemics, climate change and cybersecurity – partly because they are hierarchies of member states which themselves cannot deal with these global problems. He quotes Slaughter: “Networked problems require a networked response.” “

I cannot stress that last part enough. Networked problems require a networked response. As we face more and more problems on a global scale top-down institutions lack the flexibility and adaptability to deal with really complex problems. As the article points out, hierarchy requires the person at the top to get their head around the whole of the complexity. That is nearly impossible as the world grows entirely more complex. Things such as climate change and habitat loss require a much more adaptable and integrated response.

I return to the article here to further expand on this point;

Moreover, says Dani Rodrik of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the very globalised economy that is allowing these networks to emerge needs something or somebody to write and enforce the rules. Nation states are currently the only entities powerful enough to do this.

Yet their limitations are clear, both in solving global problems and resolving local conflicts. One solution may be to pay more attention to the scale of government. Known as subsidiarity, this is a basic principle of the EU: the idea that government should act at the level where it is most effective, with local government for local problems and higher powers at higher scales. There is empirical evidence that it works: social and ecological systems can be better governed when their users self-organise than when they are run by outside leaders.”

A government should act at the level it is most effective. I think there is a fair bit of truth in that. Yet, it comes to the point that we have to admit that most of this is just future speculation. It is an idea for one possible way forward for our societies. I for one think it is a decent idea, as I want to see us become a more globalized and integrated people. I want us to continue to push ourselves to become a planetary society (Type I on the Kardashev Scale), and that will require more networking and integration. Yet, as the article points out; how we get there (if we get there) is anyone’s best guess;

However, it is hard to see how our political system can evolve coherently in that direction. Nation states could get in the way of both devolution to local control and networking to achieve global goals. With climate change, it is arguable that they already have.”

Now, this article was written in 2014, back before the Paris Climate Agreement. Still, Nation-States consistently create problems and obstacles to further integration. Here I give the article the last word;

Like it or not, our societies may already be undergoing this transition. We cannot yet imagine there are no countries. But recognising that they were temporary solutions to specific historical situations can only help us manage a transition to whatever we need next. Whether or not our nations endure, the structures through which we govern our affairs are due for a change. Time to start imagining.”

Yes, time to start imagining.

Sources/References:

NewScientist – “The End of Nations”

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850-600-end-of-nations-is-there-an-alternative-to-countries/

Futurism – “The Kardashev Scale”

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-of-civilization-types/

https://futurism.com/the-kardashev-scale-type-i-ii-iii-iv-v-civilization/

Anarchist FAQ

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secI5.html