Category Archives: Environment/Ecology

Making Clay from Dirt: Supplemental

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! Thank you for those that have already donated! 

Hello again folks!

Now this one isn’t a full how-to, but more information that you may find useful about my previous post about Making Clay from Dirt. That is why this one is called a supplemental!

(Captain’s Log, Supplemental. You’re welcome.)

Maybe you don’t know diddly squat about dirt, or the land your reside on. Maybe this is the first time you have ever held a shovel in your life. Hey, there was a first time for all of it. I’ve been digging holes since I was a kid (much to my parent’s dismay, at times), but there was a time when I had no idea what I was doing, and we all start somewhere. So, for today I want to share with you a quick an easy way to learn a little more about the soil, especially if you want to make clay from it.

Materials:

This one is real easy.

  • You will need an empty jar, I used a mason jar

  • Something to dig some dirt with. A shovel is probably your best bet, because we have to dig down into the “banking” layer of the soil to have the best chance to find some clay.

  • A water source, a sink worker well for me

  • A spoon, or stick, or something to stir mud

  • Sifter, optional, but it helps.

Soil Horizon.

(A quick refresher)

Just a quick reminder, layer B is the layer we are after. Clay minerals leach out (because of water weathering) of the upper layers and move down into the B soil layer. There is usually a noticeable color change, (my soil turns tannish after the darker brown of the upper layers.) But in some ways each soil is unique, and there can be a lot of variety based on both the cultural and natural history of the land we are digging. My home land is an old onion farm, so it’s been turned over, and over, and over. Wet soils (river beds, swamps) may have clays a lot closer to the surface, others may be deeper down.

The cool part of what I am about to show you is that you can do it more than once, and really get a good feel for the clay (sand, and silt) content of your soil. This is really good information to have on hand.

The Process

Take your shovel and go out to wherever you are wanting to dig clay from. Make a small hole that gets you down into the banking layer. It helps me to make the hole wide enough were I can clearly see the layers in the wall of the hole. You can scrap the wall with your shovel or a trowel if you really want to see the layer changes.

Once you have your hole, you need to fill your jar around half full with dirt. Do you best to avoid lots of organic matter (roots, twigs, debris), gravel, and stones. You don’t want these in your sample. You can sift your soil quickly if that helps, but this part is optional if you are careful.

Now that you have your jar of dirt, take it inside and add some water to it. Don’t overfill it, but you need enough to be able to liquefy your dirt. Grab yourself a spoon or fancy stick, and stir that dirt up real good. You want a dirt cloud when you are done.

Now set it aside for a few hours or a couple days and let the dirt settle. This is going to allow the dirt to settle, and the particles are generally going to do this by density. Sand and gravel will settle towards the bottom, followed by silt, and on top.. Clay!

That’s the process, but now we explore the why.

The Soil Texture Chart

(My sample, clay is the smoothest layer on top. Followed by silt, and then a buttload of sand.)

The information we get from this short process is really valuable. Look at my sample above after a few days, and tell me what you see? Alright, I’ll tell you. This short little process gives you an idea of the proportional makeup of your soil. Ignore the water, and just focus on the layered soil. Mine is about 10% clay, 20% silt, and the rest is sand.

With that information in hand, let me introduce you to the Soil Texture Chart. It’s a triangle that covers most of the soil types you will encounter.

(Soil Texture Chart)

Also, there is handy online tool from the USDA that is super helpful here. Once you have your proportions, you can enter them into the tool, and it spits out your soil type. You only need fill in the percantages for sand and clay, and it will highlight your soil type on the chart above.

My soil type is called “Sandy Loam” in the bottom left, which means I get a little bit of clay, and a mountain of sand when I make clay. Your soil may be different, from really clay rich soils at the top of chart, to really silty soils at the bottom right. And that’s it, that’s the whole process. Now you know a little bit more about your soil, and this has wide implications beyond just making clay. It is also important for things like gardening (plants like minerals), agriculture, and even things like carbon sequestration. But I don’t have the space to go into all that here.

Future Posts

As this was a slightly shorter post, it gives me a little bit of space of what I am working on right now. I think my next skill sharing post will be about making charcoal, as that is another important building block for future projects. I also want to cover traditional pit firing of clay, and there will also be a little bit about slip casting (poured clay) in the near future. Ideally this is building towards a few posts on blacksmithing and metal work. (clay and charcoal are both components.) There are a few other things I may talk about along the way, woodwork, forestry and some other stuff too. I also have more folklore and animism I want to tie in too.

As always, thanks for reading!


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.

Materials

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

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

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.

Pandemics

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

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

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

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

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

Permaculture

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

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

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

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

Projects

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

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

 

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

 

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

Thanks for reading!

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


Update 3/22/2020

Hello again everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Frozen II – Thoughts

Hello again folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Sven)

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

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

(Hoover Dam, from Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


The Spirits of Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Stellar Element Table from Earthsky.org)

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

Old Väinämöinen said: “Good friend, craftsman Ilmarinen,

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

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

From heavens above to the Earth beneath

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

  • Kalevala, Poem 47 “Origin of Fire”

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

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

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

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

Tuli kulta aurinkoinen, aurinkoisen pojanpoika, auringottaren tekemä.

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

– Finnish Folklore Atlas

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

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Sarmela, Matti. Finnish Folklore Atlas.

The Kalevala

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


Intensive Reflections

(From Wikipedia)

I have come to the end of my two and a half years of Kelley Harrell’s Spirited Path Intensive, through Soul Intent Arts. This intensive covered various topics in coursework and experiential teaching, all of which revolved around animism and an animistic worldview. I have to admit it has been a heck of a ride, and it has given me the opportunity to really flesh out my own ideals and beliefs. It has been a great experience, and Kelley has been an exceptional mentor.

But now I have reached the point where I need to sit with and reflect on not only what I have done, but also what comes next. That is the purpose behind this post. A little bit of reflection on my part. As this is a pretty personal post, it may jump around a bit. I’m just going to go with wherever the flow takes me.

I wrote this at the time I started with the Intensive, and it really speaks to where my journey into animism began.

“Somewhere along the line, I became an animist and that was when everything really took off. It was around the time I read Graham Harvey’s book, Animism: Respecting the Living World. How he defined animism in that book really clicked for me; “The world is full of people, most of which are non-human, and life is lived in relations to others.” That became the foundation for my practice, and all kinds of things started to fall into place. For me, the understanding that I wasn’t just dealing with rocks, or trees, or energies, but with people; that really hit home for me. So I started focusing on those relationships, and somewhere along the way started to bridge that divide between animism and shamanism. That I wasn’t just living in a world full of people, but that I was actively mediating between them, between our worlds and theirs.”

That kicked off the long series of events that eventually lead me to the Intensive, and the subsequent work that followed. It covered a lot of territory, and I want to just talk about some of that here.

Cosmology

(From NASA)

I think one of my favorite portions of the classwork was getting to really sit with and experiment with how cosmology looks from an animistic worldview. I got to draw in a lot of inspiration from science and from old myths and folklore to really establish a cosmology. For me, that cosmology is rich in stars and trees, because of course it is! We all come from the stars, and several cultures throughout history thought the same. Through generations of stars forming and dying, the elements of our very existence were built up. It is what made the planet Earth possible, what made biology and our very being possible. In addition, even before the Intensive work, trees were central to how I related to the world around me. I lived my childhood in the forest, and that has continued well into adulthood. I love trees, and forests. So I was drawn to old ideas such as Yggdrasil, and other forms of the World Tree such as the Shaman’s Tree. While I don’t adhere strictly to a Three-Tiered cosmsos (as reality is messy), I do enjoy the Tree as a metaphor, and the connections between Land, Water, and Sky (and Stars).

If anything, the cosmology I shaped for myself became a bit of a “map to the territory”, which bridges the physical world with the spiritual world, and with the narratives that surround all that. It gives me a “you are here” way to look at myself in relationship to the Cosmos, and my place within it. This isn’t dogma, but hopefully something that can shift with time as my life experiences come to inform it in new and different ways. In no small way, the writings I have been doing lately about the väki, the spirit folk, have been a reflection of that cosmology. A way to inform and frame my here and now, and my relationships with the natural world. With the Trees and Stars, and everything in between!

Practicality

To me at least, animism and practicality are inseparable. Going back to the very dawn of our species, many indigenous cultures have spiritual worldviews that speak to a deep function and day to day knowledge. Where does the food come from? Where shall we find game? What plants are good to eat? How do we maintain fertility for those plants and animals? That is what I love about animism, because at the end of the day it has to WORK. In the words of one of my other mentors, “does this make the corn grow?”. It doesn’t help that I have what is often called an “engineers” personality, that really lives practical things and applied science. This creates for me an animism where daily rituals help to water plants, and bring nutrients to soil, and live a more sustainable and less impactful like. That animism looks like small clay shrines in a family forest, or small shrines under solar panels. That is what my animism looks like, and Kelley’s Spirited Path really helped me to flesh that out, as a way of relating to the living Earth.

Naturalistic

(Me, kayaking)

Which is a great bridge to the next aspect I refined and shaped for myself over the course of the intensive. I have found and revisited that I am more naturalistically, more nature oriented in my belief and practice. I am a science fiction writer, so it comes as no surprise that I love science, and how it helps to understand and relate to the world. It gives me inspiration for stories, and things like ecology gives me reasons to have rituals and other acts that help to preserve and conserve the natural world. That can be a real act of service, such as volunteering to take care of trails and nature areas. I love working with land, biking, hiking in forests, kayaking, and all those fun outdoorsy things. My animism looks to nature, and to ancestors as foundations of my practice. This does not mean my animism is atheistic, in fact it certainly has room for polytheisms. Moreover, it just means I like looking for forest gods and river spirits, more than devotional practices. Or put another way, the old cliché of the forest is my church, and being outdoors is my devotion. Whether you call it ecology, animism, Gaia Hypothesis, or Planetary Systems Science, I like to think we are talking about the same thing. Again, the intensive helped me to refine and shape that view.

Values and Ethics

One of the biggest things I got out of the intensive was the ability to articulate my ethics and values in a very clear way. In short, animism brings to me the understanding that on the widest scale, we have to understand our impacts and relationships. There is no such thing as no impact, every step, every breath has an impact. The fact of the matter is, our relationships are making life impossible on the planet. This means that we have an obligation to do the best the we can for not only ourselves, but for biosphere and the living planet. This brings with it a value for life, and an ethical duty to the well being of others. We have the ability, and with that comes the responsibility, to create a system that does the best it came for everyone. This implies taking Anthropogenic Climate Change head on, and doing the work it takes to create something like that. We have to ask ourselves the question of what that looks like, and start to make the huge transformations of the world system that need to happen.

I ended the Intensive having to do a kind of purpose statement, that really defined my skills and how I am going to approach my work going forward. Now, I have to say that I am still figuring out what that work will actually look like going forward, but I still wanted to share the statement I came up with at the end of the Intensive. Below is an edited and shorter version, to be more appropriate to this post.

Statement

My work revolves around the intersection of animism and ecology, at the crossroads where science, storytelling and spirituality meet. I offer a wide range of services, most of which are involved in shaping stories and the creation of artifacts. I am a fiction writer, author, crafter, metalsmith and outdoorsman. I provide a wide range of arts and crafts that have practical as well as spiritual purposes.

I work with a wide range of materials, from wood, clay, steel, to the written word on the page. All of this is pursued with respect for ecology, justice, and sustainability as a foundation; working in the least impactful ways for people and the planet. Animism is about relationships, and maintaining healthy relationships with the communities and the planet is a core value of what I do.

My work is centered around my local ecology, around the Great Lakes region, and the land known as Michigan. I am an avid hiker, hunter, bicyclist, and kayaker of the lands and waters. Sustainable relationships with that bioregion is the core of my work, and the center of my spirituality, which is a virulent mix of animism, science, folklore, and skill.

Closing Thoughts

I find it appropriate that this post would begin with some of my first thoughts entering the Spirited Path, and would end with some of the last. It’s an odd feeling, to be at the end of this, well at least the nominal end. This work doesn’t stop, not this in this lifetime. Because animism is a worldview, a way of relating to the world. That doesn’t stop, even as one page turns and another chapter begins.

I admit, I look forward to the coming days with a mixed sense of trepidation and purpose. I’m not sure what all that looks like just yet, but there is still plenty to explore, so that is exciting. All the same, I feel like I stand on firmer ground now, a foundation on which to build.

For that, I am immensely grateful.

As always, thanks for reading!