Category Archives: Hunting

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/


Spiritual Calendars

Let’s start off with updates. I have been really, really busy lately. I have been working my way towards the publication of my fourth book. I have all the artwork back, and soon as I finish formatting it will be ready for proofing.

I will be finishing up a commission for a friend’s wedding this week. It has really been a fun project. I wish I could talk more about it, but for now it will be considered a secret. Once it has been delivered, and if I can get permission; I will be happy to talk a little bit about it.

In addition, hunting season is only a week away. I am well into my spiritual work for this time of year, which is one of the busiest for me. This year is going to be break neck busy. Not only I am still building the shop, but have plenty of mundane as well as social commitments. Time in the woods is also required, of course. In many ways, I wish I had the luxury to just take the whole month of October off. Alas, I have bills to pay.

Okay; enough of that for the moment.

Today I want to talk about calendars. These things are pretty common in pagany circles. You’ve heard about the Wheel of the Year right? Pretty much anyone that has come into paganism at one time or another is introduced to these concepts.

So it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I said that I too have a calendar. Or more accurately, I have several different layers of calendars I integrate together. I “layer” them, for lack of better phrasing. Hopefully, you will understand as I explain this all a little bit more.

The Physical (Naturalistic)

It is a common caveat for me that you should look for the mundane explanations first before you look for spiritual ones. For example, if you fall off a cliff and land unceremoniously on your legs at the bottom. All of sudden, you find that one of your legs hurts a hell of a lot, and won’t carry you’re weight any longer.

It is unfounded to assume that the spirits are causing pain in your leg. Chances are, you have damaged or broke one of the many bones in your leg. Or ligaments, or muscles, or some other thing. Legs are pretty complex after all.,

The point being, explore the physical reasons first. Sometimes a spoon is just a spoon folks.

And sometimes its demon possessed cutlery from hell.

The same is true for calendars for me. I start with a base level of physical calendars. Just like most folks in the west, most of my days are counted on the Gregorian Calendar. You know, days, weeks, months, and all that.

For both spiritual as well as physical reasons, I also track the astronomical cycles. The phases of the moon, the rotation of the Earth, our revolution around the sun; equinoxes, solstices ect. I also live in Michigan, and we are a solid four season state; so I also get to observe the march from construction season to winter…

I mean spring, summer, fall and winter.

I also get to observe the stars, which change over the year in location and rotation across the sky. When I was younger I use to have them all memorized. I still remember both of them, but some of those skills have gotten rusty from disuse.

For those that are interested, Paths Through the Forests has a fair bit of good writings.

Agricultural

585px-wheel_of_the_year-svg

(From Wikipedia)

This layer is often referred to as the Wheel of the Year. At it’s core, it is mostly an agricultural calendar. Our entire civilization is sustained by an agricultural sustenance base. The Wheel of the Year corresponds to this rather nicely.

I grew up in farming country, and spent my share of time helping out on farms. I understand that winter is typically the fallow time (unless we are talking about Winter Wheat, or livestock). Most of the fields have been harvested and lie dormant.

With spring, comes an assortment of “sowing” holidays. From Imbolc through Beltaine, you get a host of associations with plowing, planting, fertility, and all the generalities that are associated with farming. Ostara falls on the Vernal Equinox, and Midsummer at the midsummer solstice.

These are followed, after Midsummer, by many of the “harvest” holidays. Lughnasadh – Samhain, with Samhain being the pinnacle of “harvest” festivals. Mabon falls on the Autumnal Equinox. * Samhain also is a big time for ancestor veneration and remembrance.

In Finnish folklore, the first of the harvest belonged to the ancestors.

There are also additional/alternate dates for Germanic/Heathen pagans. I tend to pull from this one too.

1024px-heathen_holidays

(From Wikipedia)

There is plenty of good information out there in internet-land.

Hunter’s Year

This part is another layer added onto the above calendars. Even as a hunter, I still exist in the real world, and an agricultural society. So instead of being an “alternate” calendar, it is just one more layer of interwoven meaning into my life.

In many ways, this calendar is still kind of a work in progress. That being said, it has still developed to the point where I am comfortable sharing it. It is based in a lot of my research into hunter-gatherers, as well as my understanding of the year, as well as the legal structure of hunting activities here in Michigan.

While it is not exact, and allows for plenty of nuance, it gives a rough framework in which I work.

For example, under naturalistic and modern pagan cycles, From Vernal to Autumnal equinox is called the “light half” of the year. From Autumnal to Vernal equinox is the “dark half” of the year.

As such, I have taken to calling the dark half of the year; Season of the Wolf. The light half of the year is called the Season of the Bear.

The Season of the Wolf has not real set start or end date, but really covers most of fall and winter. It is the time of the hunt, and of winter. It coincides with deer hunting season (and several species of small game) here in Michigan. Bow season starts October first, and runs through the start of the new year, with firearm season in November.

The Season of the Bear starts in the spring, and starts the season of foraging and fishing.** It corresponds roughly to the light half of the year.

You might be wondering why I choose to name these seasons after Big Name predators. Well, part of is my associations with the wolf. I’ve not kept it a secret or anything. Wolf HAD to be in there.

However, I actually have sort-of logic attached to it. Some of the hunter-gatherer I have researched have strong associations to both the bear as well as the reindeer. The reasoning being that bears hibernate in the winter, and so that is when the Season of the Bear ends. When they wake up in the spring, the Season of the Bear begins. Reindeer too, have seasonal migrations in both the spring and winter when they move between their feeding grounds. Reindeer have a love of certain temperature ranges, and they migrate to stay in that range. They move north in summer, and come back south in winter.

I have talked a little bit about these things here.

Now, like I said this is really a general outline of a work in progress. Obviously bears don’t go into hibernation exactly on the autumnal equinox, any more than reindeer migrate and exactly that time. That is part of the reason I called them “seasons”, as they would roughly correspond to different halves of the year. It only gives maybe 6 months of flex or so…

In addition, hunting and fishing seasons are defined as much legally as socially. Any hunting/fishing season can be changed. These also can vary from state to state. In general though, spring/summer is a great time for fishing and foraging, and fall/winter is when numerous species (including deer) are up for hunting.

A work in progress at the end of the day.

Thanks for reading!

 

Notes;

*In the northern hemisphere. All dates are on the opposite side of the year in the southern hemisphere.

 

Sources/References;

Paths Through the Forests

Wikipedia (Wheel of the Year)

Bears and the Ancient North


Walking with the Spirits Part 3-A

For this one, I want to talk for a bit of what we know about the “origins” of religion. How did it begin? Where did it begin? Why did it begin? In reality, these are huge questions, and there are no real clear cut answers in regards to these questions. There are many difficulties with dealing with the past, and in no small amount there is a degree of interpretation involved.

For purposes of this discussion, religion will be taken to mean really any form of spirituality or spiritual beliefs. I will be using it in a very wide context, in order to help navigate the vagueness of this all.

In short, we just don’t know the answers to these questions with any real degree of certainty. Part of this has to do with the very nature of prehistory and archaeology in general. Prehistory means just that, before written records. As such, we don’t have any writings to help us nail down the specifics. There is no prehistoric text that clearly says “religions begins here.”

In addition, archaeology is an interpretive science. The data and artifacts are collected for countless sites, and then debated and compared. It can really tell us a great deal about the past, but it is important to keep in mind that there are very real limits when dealing with prehistory. The questions of “how” and “where” are easier to answer than the “why?” I will do my best to explore all this in a coherent matter.

So let’s look at the how’s, where’s and why’s to the best of our ability.

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This is a good map by Simon Davies, showing how many of our contemporary religions developed over time.

I think this map is a great starting point for this discussion. I want to draw your attention to its lowest branch for the moment. The base of this tree is labeled as “animism” at ca. 100,000 BCE. I will be getting into the nuance a little later on in this post, but I wanted to start here.

In chapter one of this series, I talked a fair bit about the ideology of animism, and how it has changed over time. I am not going to recap all that here, but suffice to say that animism is often cited as the oldest of all spiritual beliefs. It often serves as a foundation for the later diversification of numerous branches of religion.

Now I would like to draw your attention to the second branch from the bottom; which includes the categories such as “European Animism” and “Fosna Shamanism.” Shamanism is the another important part to this. I have not spent much time talking about shamanism yet in this series, and that may have to wait for another post. That being said, there is a deep interconnection between shamanism and animism. As I mentioned in chapter 1 of this series, (new) animism is the idea that the world is full of persons, most of which are not human, and that life is lived in relation with one another.

Shamanism as such, is the ideas, concepts and methods of dealing with these other-than-humans persons. A shaman is a specialist in these regards. I have wrote a lot about this subject, and the reader is invited to Google the topic if they want to know more.

We will not be moving any higher on the tree with this post, and so the later polytheisms, monotheisms and others will not be covered here. Sorry folks.

So we have established both animism and shamanism as the two ideological foundations for religion, but there is one more piece of this puzzle that we have not yet covered. In a chapter by Matt Rossano, he talks about the three elements of early religion. Animism, shamanism and ancestor worship. As he rightly points out, it is impossible to tell if these “constitute religion’s original traits”; but that they are so commonly present in the oldest religions that they might be considered “universal”, and have deep evolutionary roots.

Animism, shamanism, and ancestor worship. These are the big three, and will be the core focus of this series going. In addition, as I explored in chapter 2, so will be totemism as it is strongly interrelated to all these concepts.

So, with our ideological focus in mind, let’s explore some of the early archaeological evidence for these religious ideas.

Ancestor Worship

As Rossano and many other scholars have pointed out, the evidence for ancestor worship is more prominent in burial finds and grave goods. There are countless numbers of sites that could be brought in as evidence, and that would be far too exhaustive for this post. That being said, we can focus for a brief moment on Shanidar Cave in modern day Iraq.

The remains of ten Neanderthals were found in Shanidar Cave, and are dated between 65 and 35 kya. One of these skeletons was found to be buried with a flower, which can be argued to be evidence of not only intentional burial, but can also be pointed to as evidence of some form of burial ritual to the dead. It is important to note that this find has been recently disputed.

However, a less disputed site is present at Qafzeh Cave in modern day Israel. At this site was found the burial of two modern humans dated to about 100 kya. They are thought to be a mother and a child, and both bodies were found to be stained with red ochre. This is thought to be evidence of a ritualized burial.

There are countless other sites that could be mentioned that provide much more detail and specifics to this line of thinking, and we will explore them more going forward in this series. But for now, generalities will have to suffice.

Shamanism

As Rossano points out; “in traditional societies the shaman’s role is to enter altered states of consciousness wherein he/she connects with spiritual forces in order to gain knowledge or effect cures. The shaman is the community’s spiritual emissary…”

Naturally, Rossano points to several Upper Paleolithic cave art sites in support of early forms of shamanism, from the caves at Chauvet and Lacaux which date from about 30 kya and 17 kya respectivetly. The notable traits of the cave sites, such as shapeshifting and theriomorphic and anthropomorphic images on many of the cave walls.

Some sites even push evidence of shamanism and animism back until the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 300Kya – 45 kya), such as this excerpt from Wikipedia;

“Likewise a number of archaeologists propose that Middle Paleolithic societies — such as that of the Neanderthals — may also have practiced the earliest form of totemism or animal worship in addition to their (presumably religious) burial of the dead. Emil Bächler in particular suggests (based on archaeological evidence from Middle Paleolithic caves) that a widespread Neanderthal bear-cult existed” (Paleolithic Religion)

In addition, another source at Britannica adds, in the context of animal worship;

“This phenomenon is similar to what is still known today as animalism (or nagualism or theriocentrism). It is characterized by close magical and religious ties of humans with animals, especially with wild animals. It is also characterized in terms of otherworldly and superworldly realms and practices, such as placating and begging for forgiveness of the game killed, performing oracles with animal bones, and performing mimic animal dances and fertility rites for animals. Animals were thought to be manlike, to have souls, or to be equipped with magical powers. Animalism thus expresses itself in various conceptions of how animals are regarded as guardian spirits and “alter egos,” of the facile and frequent interchangeability between human and animal forms, and also of a theriomorphically (animal-formed) envisioned higher being—one who changes between human and animal forms and unifies them. Higher, often theriomorphic, beings are gods who rule over the animals, the hunters, and the hunting territory, or spirits in the bushland and with the animals.”

We can see some of these aspects in the archaeology of numerous sites, which as mentioned before, will be examined in more depth later. However, the idea of animal worship brings grants a bridge back to animism in general

Animals and Natural Spirits

From Rossano’s text, we can see the evidence of many of the animal worship that was just discussed above in the context of animism. Rossano points to many of theriothropic images in Chauvet and other caves from the Upper Paleolithic.

He even highlights how there appear to be certain chambers that are dedicated to certain animals, or their spirits.

For example; “The ‘Lion Chamber’ at Les Trois-Freres contains a large feline mural along with the remains of a fire surrounded by apparently deliberately place bones.” – Rossano

Or another one; “In the ‘bear chamber’ at Chauvet Cave, there is a bear skull carefully placed atop a large limestone block. Below the block are the remains of fire and more than 30 other bear skulls that seem to be intentionally place.” – Rossano

So where does this all leave us? I think I will give Rossano the final world here, in his section aply called;

Ancestor Worship, Shamanism and Animism:

Supernaturalizing Social Life.

In which Rossano says;

“The critical point about religion’s primitive traits – ancestor worship, shamanism, and animism – is that they represent the addition of a supernatural layer to human social life. For example, the ancestors are typically thought of as fully participating members of the social community who play a critical role in the health, prosperity, fertility, and future fortune of their earth-bound tribe.

Ancestors are the ever-watchful, “interested parties” whose goals and concerns… must be considered in the everyday affairs of the living.

Likewise, the shaman is the spiritual world’s earthly messenger, relaying critical information about the spirits’ desires and demands…

Finally, an animistic view of the natural world incorporates nature into the human social world. There is considerable evidence that this sacred orientation toward the land and its resources can curb exploitation and enhance human cooperation over the sharing of scare resources.”

I could not have said it better myself. With this kind of framework in mind, we can move forward to exploring some of the beliefs of our ancestors.

Thanks for reading!

References/Sources;

 Map of Religions

Walking with the Spirits Part 1-A

(I find that Wikipedia is good for general survey, and has a useful bibliography for finding other sources)

Wikipedia (Evolution of Religions)

Wikipedia (Paleolithic Religion)

Wikipedia (Prehistoric Religion)

Wikipedia (Shanidar Cave)

Wikipedia (Atapuerca Cave)

Wikipedia (Qafzeh Cave)

Rossano, Matt

Britannica


Walking with the Ancestors Part 3-B

The two hunters slowly made their way across the steep mountain pass. The mountains rose up to their right, and over the precipice to their left, lay the forested valleys far below them. The winds blew across the exposed mountains, and the hunters wrapped themselves tighter in their furs.

The old ones of their village had told them stories about their ancestors, how one generation after another they had moved north in search of new more verdant lands. In the ancient days, the old ones had said, they had lived far to the south in lands warm and lush. But some had said that those lands had become too crowded, and there had not been enough food. Others had said that it was the sky that called to them, and they walked out of that land in order to find where the land touched the sky.

The first hunter turned to the second and smiled.

“Do you think we will be able to touch they sky soon brother?” He said. His younger brother smiled.

“This place is certainly as near to the sky as I have ever been.” The younger of the two replied.

“Yet, the sun does not seem any closer. It is almost as if we are farther from it now.” The older brother said.

“I would think so. The days are colder than I remember.” The younger brother confirmed.

Around the edge of the mountain, the older brother found new signs of their prey, tracks in the soil that covered the mountain. The older brother looked out to the mountains beyond. High above them shone the white capped peaks in the distance. He had always loved just looking at the mountains, as the green cloaks slowly gave way to white as they great peaks reached for the sky. The hunters were still firmly in that green cloak, and grass and trees spread out all around them.

The younger brother squatted over the tracks, and traced his fingers around them. The older brother smiled. His younger sibling had become quite the tracker since becoming an adult just the winter past. He would never admit it, but he figured his brother was already a better track than himself.

“The horned one (1) passed this way not too long ago, it should be close.” The younger brother said.

“Then now is the time for quiet.” The older brother said, and he set out moving slowly towards the trees around the side of the mountain. The horned ones loved the higher parts of the mountains, and they were fast and sure footed even on the steepest of slopes. If the brothers hoped to get one with their spears, they would have to catch it unaware. Otherwise, it would sprint across the mountains and they would loose it.

The younger brother took the lead as they tracked the horned one, but luck was not in their favor. As they emerged from some cover, the horned was was there waiting for them. The younger brother’s eyes went wide as he saw the animal, and he realized a little late that the two of them were blocking it’s only way of escape. The horned one charged, and the younger brother jumped out of the way. He tumbled to the side, and pan iced as his feet hit loose gravel instead of grassy soil. He lost his footing and the ground slid out from under him, and in another heartbeat you would have slid right off the edge of the cliff.

The older brother had had a little more warning than his sibling, and had an easier time dodging out of the way of the horned one as it quickly ran off beyond their reach. The older brother had seen his sibling fall, and he ran to catch him before he went over the edge of the cliff. When his own feet hit the gravel, he had to struggle to keep his own footing, and realized with horror that he could not have reach his brother in time.

He shouted as the younger man went over the edge of the mountain.

The young man lost sight of his brother as he passed over the ledge and tumbled down the long slope that followed. For that much he had to be thankful, as a sheer drop would have killed him instantly. He slid down the slope as the gravel tore at his skin and only made him slide faster. He had little time to look around before the slope came to a stop among much larger rocks. Pain racked his body, and he heard a loud snap as he collided with the rocks and tumbled some more before coming to a stop against the side of a cliff.

Pain shot through his left leg, and blood ran down his forearms. He took one deep breath, and then another. He cried in pain and longing for his brother.

“I am going to die here.” He sobbed to himself. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but the blackness slowly took him.

When he next opened his eyes, he realized instantly that he was not in the same place he fallen. He could hear voices around him (2), but he did not understand them. He glanced around, and came to the conclusion that he was in a cave, and that there was a fire somewhere near by. Light and shadows danced across the cave around him.

There were faces as well, and these frightened him. The faces he could see were broad, with large ridges above the eyes. One of these faces however over him, staring right back into his eyes. He had heard the other hunters tell stories about these people. The other hunters had said they were strong and could rip a person in half. Some said that they were stupid, and could not even speak. All they did was crush things, and some of the hunters even said they would catch people and eat them.

Tears ran down his eyes.

“Please don’t eat me.” The young man said. The face above him seemed startled for a moment, and then smiled. That is when the young man realized that the face over him was probably a woman.

She touched him low on his body, and more pain streaked through his body. She had touched his left leg, and he know knew it was surely broken. The woman started to touch other parts of his body, and he was pleased when only a few areas were really painful. The woman muttered something that he did not understand.

He titled his head to the right, and saw that a good portion of his chest had been wrapped in leather, and some kind of crushed plant. He was happy when he saw his right arm rise, and he gestured at the wraps.

“Did you do this?” He said, tapping his chest. The broad face started at him for a long moment. Then she tapped a finger on his chest. He flinched a little bit. He took the gesture as a ‘yes’.

The world faded in an out over the next few days. With each turn of the sun, those days turned into weeks, and then into months. The young man met many others as they came and went from the cave, and one day at a time he started to pick up little bits of their language. He learned their ways, and over time started to love them.

He also came to love her, the first face he had awoken to. He wanted to stay with them, with her, and so he stayed.

And in time a child was born…

Notes;

(1) From Wikipedia (Altai Mountains), it is stated that the climate in the Altai mountains has been relatively stable since the last ice age. As a result, it has also retained a lot of ice age fauna (minus mammoths and other extinct creatures). I figured the Siberian Ibex would make a good choice of prey.

(2) There is still some debate about whether or not Neanderthals could actually speak in the same way we do. I took a creative liberty in this case.

Commentary;

I could have fleshed this one out a lot more had I chosen too. You might think it has a bit of an abrupt ending, and this is deliberate in this case. I had to bring it to an end, otherwise it would have quickly exceeded an easily readable size. I do try to limit the length of my individual posts on this blog. Also, if you really like this kind of story, may I recommend Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel. While I am not a huge fan of the later books in the series, I highly recommend Clan of the Cave Bear for a good all around neanderthal/human story.

You also might have noticed that this one departed from the general format I have used for the previous stories. I really considering making it another story of a boy sitting around a fire with an old woman. But it some ways, I felt that that format would be a little too much “once upon a time” in feeling. I choose this one because this is not a story of some far off time before humans or any kind of people to witness it. I actually share part of my genetic code with some of the fossils that were found in that cave. My ancestors were actually there, actually experienced what it was like in those days. And so I choose to make this a much more “in the moment” kind of story.

Who knows, maybe I am just conjuring up buried ancestral memories from some young hunter buried deep in my genetic code?

Maybe not.

All the same, I hoped you enjoyed this one, and hope you join me in the next chapter of this series as we explore another site and another of my distant ancestors.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources and references;

Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel.

I also referenced many of the sources from part A of this chapter for inspiration.


Why I Hunt; Some Thoughts on Being Outside

Starting with updates, as per the usual. As it is the holidays, I have found little time to keep up on the blogs. Not that I haven’t been writing, but rather I am having a hard time posting in any regular sort of fashion. A big part of this is the general lack of internet access at home. While I can write at home, posting is another matter. In addition, my place of employment has recently moved sites, so all of my regular avenues of internet access have dissolved. I am in the process of hunting down new places of access.

The third book in the Elder Blood Saga is nearing completion, and while I was hoping to have it out in time for the holidays, that seems less likely now. Yet, things continue to move forward, so stay tuned on that front. I will also be staring on number 5 after the start of the new year. Still, there are a few hunting days in the year…

Which brings me to the topic for today, the reasons I hunt. As a hunter and animist, I have lots of reasons why I hunt, and I will do my best to outline a few of them here. First and foremost, I have a great love of the outdoors, and have since I was a small child. In fact, my earliest and most cherished memories are those of roaming the woods and exploring. You could say I am a bit of an adventurous sort. I like exploring new places, and I enjoy greatly just being outside, hiking, kayaking, camping, and all those sorts of things.

In many ways, the love of being outdoors is one of the main reasons I took up hunting. It was a kind of logical extension. I loved being outside, and hunting gave me a reason to spend even more time outdoors. In fact, that is the primary reason I hunt, to experience nature and all it has too offer. Really, in this day and age of supermarkets, it is not like I am going to go hungry if I am not successful. However, at least with hunting I know how the animal lived, how it died, and that it generally free of additives and hormones that often haunt supermarket meats.

On top of that, it also serves to reinforce the animistic idea that the world is full of people, only some of which are human. Hunting gives me the chance to experience the forest, the trees, and the deer as living and breathing beings. It also grants me the opportunity to see them living as nature intended, and that is an experience in and of itself. It let’s me see deer and other animals play, fight, mate, and generally do all the things that critters do. They have spirits, and personalities.

This invites a story. Last year, there was a button buck that would come out almost every day around my stand. He would look at me, and snort every single time. He knew I was there, and that I was not a threat to him. As such, he would wander around for a while around my stand, under it, and then maybe eat for a while. I named him Courage, for self evident reasons. He did this almost every single day. While not the most exciting thing in the world, I found that I looked forward to seeing him.

Then this season rolls around, and I had to contemplate the fact that Courage very well might be a buck of decent size. I had to wonder if I could take a shot at a creature I had developed a bond with.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to make that decision. I have not seen any bucks this year.

I have to wonder where Courage is today…

That is the real reason I hunt. Not to kill, not even for the meat, but for the experience. For the simple joy that comes with being outside. It makes me feel more connected, and more aware than most other things. It also further reinforces my interest and passion for things like the environment, ecology, and conservation. I have first hand experience of what habitat destruction does to ecosystems.

In truth, it’s more about the journey than the end game. Yeah, there may be meat at the end of the road, but that is more of an afterthought for me. The main reason I hunt is for the experience. As such, I want to relay just a few of my experiences…

-Watching a clear night sky, as the stars fade and the sun rises. It’s like watching the first dawn on Earth.

– Listening to the birds start to sing as they awaken.

– The sound of a hawk shrieking as it flies through the woods like a bullet.

– The silence of an owl as it drops through the trees and tries to catch a Bluejay.

– The very same Bluejay getting about two feet away on a branch, and taking a crap. It left me laughing.

– Wounding a deer, tracking it for a mile across the marsh, only to have the coyotes beat you too it. (Little bastards)

-Having a raccoon wander straight towards you, look right at you, and pick its nose. (I am pretty sure he was giving the equivalent of the finger)

-Hearing coyotes howl. (Chilling. Someday I hope to hear wolves too.)

-Having coyotes circle your stand after dark. (A little unnerving, thankfully they spook easily)

-Walking through the woods, and coming within arms length of a fawn, it’s eye wide with curiosity.

– Having momma charge from the brush moments later, and give you the “hell no!” look, before dashing away with her fawn. (Scared the hell out of me)

– Following animals track through day old fallen snow

– The crunch of fresh frost beneath your boots

I could go on, sure. But you’ll notice one thing here, that none of these memories really have anything to do with killing deer.

Yeah, meat is nice, but it really its all about being outside.


Skin Spirits, by Lupa; Some Thoughts

I have been reading through Skins Spirits by Lupa , and I have had some thoughts that I wanted to share on this book.

First off, if you have any interest of working with animal parts in a practical/spiritual manner, this book is HIGHLY recommended! Honestly, I can not praise this book enough. Reading through this book, I found myself saying “yes!” and nodding along at several locations, and it is a wonderful to see many of my thoughts reflected in Lupa’s well written read words. Skin Spirits was published back in 2009, and the impression I was left with after reading it was twofold; First, “where have you been all my life?!” and second; “why did it take me so long to become aware of this?!”

Yes, it would be safe to say I am a big fan of this book. But all the gushing and glowing aside, there are some very good thoughts, ideas and concepts well presented throughout this book that I really wanted to talk about here. I come at this book from my own walk in life, primarily as a hunter and an animist. In fact, I have been reading it mostly while out hunting (oh the irony!)

In the first chapter, she lays out the reasons for working with animal parts, and I wanted to briefly touch on these from my own perspective.

1) To Give the Spirits a better “Afterlife”

This reason is very important to me on so many levels. It is something I have to think about whenever I go hunting. As a hunter, I strive to make my kills as clean as possible in order to prevent suffering. Also, I am spiritually obligated to the animal after it is killed. Call it a “life debt”. I have to make sure the spirit is treated properly and with respect, and that, should the spirit desire to do so, that it makes it way into the keeping of its ancestors. Lupa just adds another layer to this, and further adds to my intellectual toolbox. It goes beyond just making sure the “core” spirit of the animal is properly cared for, but also the “partial spirit” that continues to reside in the remains. These too should be treated with respect.

In addition, I have been trying to learn more about leatherworking, and working with the remains from the animals I hunt. Lupa certainly presents plenty to think about in this regard, and I will continue to mull it over as I learn more about tanning, leather crafting, and working with animal remains.

2) To Connect with Spirits, Deities and Other Entities

Bones, feathers, skins and so forth can be used as ritual tools to connect with spirit of the animal, or as Lupa puts it, to the totem of that animal. To keep on point, this one is pretty straightforward. As Lupa presents it, skins and other animal remains retain a part of the spirit of the original anima, and this can be used as a connection to the spirit itself, or to greater beings that represent the entire species. For example, Lupa uses remains to call on the spirit she wants to work with, such as in dance or ritual.

3) To avoid waste and 4) aesthetic reasons.

As these two points are pretty straight forward, I won’t say much about them. To avoid waste in a big one, and basically comes down to the principle of recycling. It is important to me to use as much of an animal as I can, especially if it is one I killed. That is part of the obligation, but it all just makes good sense as far as conservation is concerned. Waste not, want not. The other point is aesthetics, where in we concede the point that animal remains have a certain look about them. “Tribal” “Primitive”, or “Shamanic”. My take away from Lupa’s book is that while remains can be aesthetically pleasing, we should have other reasons for working with animal remains for more than just the way they look. Afterall, we are just talking about lifeless hunks of material, but the beings that still are part of those remains. Beings that are worthy of respect, and that they should be treated as such.

The rest of the book covers things like ethical and legal concerns, more detailed information about working with skin spirits, as well as practical ways to create items from skins and other animal remains. I am glossing over these parts for several reasons; first, it would make this blog way too long for easy reading, and second and most importantly; it is not my place to recap the entirety of another author’s work. Out of respect for Lupa, and any author, if you want to read more about these things you will have to purchase the work. It is not my place to offer freely that which is not mine.

As such, I wanted to focus on a couple of other points. First, I want to talk a little about “fake” animal remains and the real thing. As Lupa points out, there are several reasons a person might not want/be able to work with the real thing. There could be ethical issues, legal issues, financial issues, as well as other reasons. The animal you want to work with may be extinct, or may not dwell on this plane of existence.

In my own case, I work with wolf spirits, and so I am not allowed to own anything that would in anyway sanction the killing of a wolf, even if it is legal. It’s a spiritual taboo, and as far as the spirits I work with are concerned, it amounts to kin killing. As such, in order to work with wolf, I do have a faux fur cloak. It originally started its life as part of a Halloween costume one year, and then turned into a ritual artifact.

However, as in my own case, I am aware of how environmentally unfriendly having such a pelt is. It takes petroleum to produce it, and it will practically never breakdown (a few thousand years or so.) As such, I never intend to replace it once it starts to fall apart, and I have resolved to use as much as I can until I can no longer do so. Basically, to reuse it as much as I can, and do my best to prevent it from ending up in a landfill. Lupa has a more recent post on fake furs, which is liked below.

The point being, that sometimes we have to turn to substitutes. I have been exploring other options such as smaller items and masks. I have a few wolf pendants, and because of Lupa’s book, I have also been exploring the idea of wolf-shed (made from the shedded fur of live wolves) artifacts. It may just be an option considering the taboos I am under.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

http://www.thegreenwolf.com/dear-fellow-artist-no-i-will-not-use-fake-fur-and-heres-why/

Skin Spirits, by Lupa.

Find it on her website at http://www.thegreenwolf.com


The Triumphant (Kinda) Return!

Hello folks!

Now that I have another manuscript out of the way, I am doing my best to return to regular writing here. As I have been away for a few months, I’ll start with some updates.

I am sure you all noticed, but the re-release of my book “Of Ice and Darkness” is up for sale! You can find it under the “publications” tab of this blog. I have to say I am really excited about the new cover. My cover artist as well as the my designer are really amazing at what they do. Not only is it a vast improvement over the old cover, I just really love seeing my creations come to life in visual form!

So, the second part of the Elder Blood Saga has been re-released, and now I am working towards finalizing the third book in that series. It will be my first new release, and I am hoping to have it available before Yuletime. Also, I am aiming for next year for the publication of books number 4 and 5. That’s right, this series will be coming to an end in the year to come! (In an ideal world.)

It has been kind of a bad hunting year so far. I have not had a lot of free time, and the time I have been able to find either; the weather has been really crappy or there just really hasn’t been a lot going on in the woods. I’ve seen a few deer so far, but all does. Not that I have a real problem taking does, because meat is meat. It’s just that the ones I have seen have been really young, small and/or sickly. I have seen one doe where I could basically count her ribs, she was so small and famished. It makes me kind of concerned and a little bit worried, and I know that her odds of getting through the winter are not going to be great unless she can bulk up a little.

Honestly, I have been a little frustrated with my lack of free time this year. Some days, I wish I could just write full time, but that wouldn’t really pay the bills at this point. There are just so many projects I want to work on, and that whole day-job thing is really sucking up all my time and energy. Yeah, I make decent money, have a roof over my head and food in my belly… But at the end of the day I kind of wish I could have those things and actually be doing something that I enjoy and is meaningful to me.

Cake and eat it too.

Call me a dreamer.

I am trying to get myself back in the habit of writing blogs regularly again, and I have to admit I have been having a hard time about it. See above, where I find my time is at a premium. I have at least three bigger projects forming in my head, and there is plenty of smaller things I want to write about here. Most days, I find myself having to choose between one and the other. Do I work on a chapter from a longer work, or do I write a blog post?

I hate having to choose. I want to simultaneously create longer works, as well as maintain a decent quality blog. After all, this is my primary means of communicating with people. Yet, lately I have found when I try to juggle the two, the quality of one almost always suffers. I can write a decent and well thought out blog, and a substandard chapter, or vice versa. I do not like creating what I feel is substandard content.

I am also my worst critic.

With all that in mind, I will do my best to turn out blog posts at least every other week. I’d love to get back to my weekly posts, but I am not sure that is doable at this point. Anywho, that is enough of that! I wanted to offer a preview of some of the things I am working on!

(Possible) Upcoming works!

    • I am working on a book like a “Clan of the Cave Bear” type of work. I really loved that book, by Jean Auel. I can’t say I was as fond of the latter books, because I just didn’t love the “mother goddess” ideas that were present throughout them, nor the rampant “romance” of it all. Mammoth Hunters was good, those points aside… Either way, with my background in archaeology and my general interest in hunter gatherers, I am wanting to try my hand at something similar.
    • There is also a book about animism in the works, which is slowly taking shape. I just want to organize a lot of the thoughts I present here in a more cohesive and longer form.
    • A kind of sci-fi epic has been slowly taking shape. The inspirations include The Dark Tower Series, Mass Effect, Lord of the Rings, and a lot of others too. Just something I have been jotting notes about here and there.
    • I have two manuscripts for a contemporary fantasy I have been working on, and I might start moving the first towards publication soon. The early drafts have been well received.
    • I also have three manuscripts of a fantasy trilogy sitting around. Honestly, I don’t really like it. But I have been rewriting it, slowly.
    • There has also been thoughts about doing an anthology about shamanism in some form…. Just thoughts at this point.
    • There is a bigger project I have been hinting about, but due to numerous setback it will not take shape until next spring. Sorry!
    • And then there is all the blogs I have been thinking about. While these all might not materialize, I do have some notes/early drafts for things like; Science and Animism, Animism and Politics, Ancestors, Thoughts on Lupa’s “Skin Spirits” and “Engaging the Spirit World”, The future of humanity, environmentalism, capitalism… and on and on and on.

All in all, there is quite a bit of work going on. In truth, it is a little overwhelming.

Still, it feels good to be back!

Thanks for reading!