Category Archives: Philosophy

The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence Part 2

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

Hello again folks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give the last word here to the BBC;

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

 Thanks for reading!


BBC – Superorganism

Collective Intelligence


The Technium

The Hobbesian

The Spirit, Networks, and Emergence

Hello again folks, hope you are all doing well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gleiser says it this way;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In talking about a maple leaf, Haskell says;

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

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

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

As Haskell says;

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!


Thoughts on Cleansing and Shielding

Earlier today I read the piece that John Beckett post here.

It prompted a response on my part on the Book of Faces, and I wanted to recapture some of that here, because I want to explore it all a little deeper. There has been a great deal of talk about purity and other related topics in the pagan blogosphere. I have some of my own thoughts on the matter.

To recap my comment, I said this on Facebook;

“I think of spiritual purity very “naturally.”

Spiritual dirt is like real dirt. Probably not going to kill you, and comes off pretty easy. A little bit of dirt is normal, and perhaps even healthy.

Spiritual pollution is a similar to rolling around in sewage. Might actually make you sick, and will take more than a shower to deal with.

Spiritual toxicity is like living with nuclear waste. Will likely kill you, and is best avoided unless you like melting flesh. If it can be dealt with, is going to need some high grade cleansing.”

I wanted to elaborate on all this a little bit. The way I have come to understand them, cleansing and shielding are two sides of a the coin. One is to get “clean” away spiritual detritus and contamination, and one is to prevent it in the first place. Let’s run with some of the metaphor’s I brought up.

Spiritual dirt happens, just in the same way that regular dirt happens. It accumulates in our houses, and on our bodies whether we like it or not. Wearing clothes helps a little of this. It is the reason we should change our underwear every day, or why I wear an apron while at the forge. The point being, is that such articles help to keep some of the everyday dirt away from my body. This is basic level shielding, which is good for the day to day stuff. I keep a “basic” shield on my at all times, just like clothes. I change it out every so often for the same reasons.

But just like changing clothes won’t keep me clean indefinitely, neither will a basic level shield. I have to shower at least once in a while. The same applied for cleansing. Just like you have to wash your clothes as well as your body, the same principle applies to your spiritual self as well. Whatever your chosen method, basic cleansing such as sage or incenses help to keep the spiritual body and laundry tidy.

I make no judgement about negative/positive good/bad or otherwise in regards to spiritual dirt. It is something that happens, but that should be cleared away once in a while less you get “stinky”. More on that in a minute. The point being that spiritual dirt is pretty normal.

Also, as a side note, I do think our spiritual selves are similar to our living body in many ways. As such, I do think we have a certain level of intrinsic shielding, kind of like the body’s own immune system. It fights off what it can without a lot of maintenance. That is also something to keep in mind. Some dirt is actually healthy for the physical immune system, and overall, I would argue that a little bit of dirt is healthy for the spirit too.

The next level, is what I call spiritual pollution. This is more than just the everyday “dirt” that builds up. As I mentioned above, it is like rolling in sewage. There is a good chance it is going to make you sick. In physical term, it is like the rough analogy of getting something rather mundane like the cold, or something more series like the Flu or pneumonia. It can range from the spiritual equivalent of a “headcold” to something a lot more serious. Think hospital time in the real world.

There comes a point where, without regular cleansings, everyday “dirt” can start to become “pollution.” Think if you got really dirty without taking a shower or changing your clothes, or got into something like sewage with a lot of nastiness in it. Spiritual pollution can make you sick in your spirit.

And unlike dirt, it probably isn’t going to go away with just a shower (cleansing). Just like your physical body, if you get really sick you might want to see a doctor or go to the hospital. With spiritual pollution you might also want to consult a specialist.

On the shielding part, everyday clothes won’t protect you from the biohazard that is sewage. People that work with such pollutants typically have specialized suits so they don’t get sick or worse. That is another level of shielding, which takes a little more time, care and maintenance to create effectively. In my own practice, the “mid level” shielding is more heavier than my everyday work.

Which brings us to the last point. The worst of the worst to me is what I call spiritual toxicity. In practical terms, I made the analogy to nuclear waste. Long term exposure will probably kill you, or at very least make you really sick, like long term cancer sick. Overall, I think this kind of thing is best avoided, or if you must encounter it, you better go prepared. Nuclear waste workers often wear full environmental/hazard suits. They also go through decontamination both before and after exposure.

Shielding and cleansing should be treated the same way. I don’t think I can stress enough, if you are going to deal with toxic things, you need to be prepared. Nuclear waste crews typically have entire institutions and countless regulations behind them.  A simple saging or incense won’t do the trick here. Like cancer gets in your body, spiritual toxins infect your spirit. This kind of things needs specialist, and expert level shielding and cleansing. I have what I call my “advanced” level shielding, and it has taking me many years to shape. It take a lot to work and maintain, but it’s all about that preparation thing.

Some of you may notice that I mix organic and techno-industrial metaphors. While they may not be right on point, they convey what I am trying to get across. Something between the technological and the organic.

And that dear readers, is today’s lesson in spiritual cybernetics.



Angry Dead, Toxic Dead – Follow Up

When I wrote “Angry Dead, Toxic Dead”, I didn’t exactly expect it to become the topic of another discussion night at the local metaphysical store; The Wandering Owl. However, that is exactly what happened, and I found it it be an enlightening experience.

Several things came up that I feel deserve to be expanded upon.

I want to elaborate a little bit on my current understanding of the nature of the spirit, and about death. I have pretty complicated views on both these things, and I think both deserve a little more exposition.

As I understand it, the spirit is not one singular entity, but more of a unified whole composed of numerous parts. It is analogous in many way to the physical body, which is composed of countless numbers of discrete cells, organs and systems. Overall however, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The level of organization in my body is something greater than any individual cell or organ. And, as is the nature of cells, they multiply, and are swapped out when the cease to function.

The spirit is similar in many ways, at least in the way I conceive it. “How many parts?” is a matter of some debate, because honestly I don’t know. That is one of the things that defines my view of the spirit, is that is dynamic and adaptable. The overall number of “parts” changes over time, based on a variety of factors. Sometimes parts drop away that are no longer needed. Sometimes new parts are added as a marker of some measure of spiritual growth. I suspect the number and kinds of parts of my spiritual “parts” is very different than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now.

Obviously, there are all kinds of implications and nuances that go along with this. Certain parts can be isolated and healed. Others can rot, and have to be stripped away, for the health of the whole. As was a big thing in shamanic communities in the near-past, some spiritual parts can be “lost”, and might have to be retrieved. Just as a generality, I would argue that some measure of “soul loss” is natural, and might even be healthy. The fact is, I am not the person I was ten years ago, and my spirit reflects this. Sometimes “outgrowing” our proverbial skins could be a good thing.

In addition to this, spirits don’t exist in isolation. We leave spiritual “pieces” all over the place, as do other people. That is part of the process of how we shape meaning in our lives. Our homes and objects are dotted with little bits of ourselves. The things we create, the people we come to know, all of them are touched with pieces of spirits. It is also a two way street, and the people we know and the meaning in our lives does the same thing to our spirits. Connections are made, and bonds as well as spirits are shared.

It’s like countless little drops of water suspended in a spider’s web.

Death, in light of this model, is a “breaking down” of all the spiritual parts we have at the moment we pass away. Some parts live on as ancestors, or ghosts, or some other form. Some are lost forever, and some are recycled into whatever comes next. Some parts of us live on in our loved ones, and in the things that we leave behind. But just like the cells in our body once we die, the spirit starts to break down as well.

It is a completely natural process in this sense. I touched upon this kind of thing in the last post, so I am not going to detail it all here.

As such, I want to circle back to one of the points raised in discussion. In the last post, I talked about violent death, traumatic death, as leaving behind angry spirits (pieces). If left untreated (through rites, mourning, what have you), some spirits can go bad, and become the kind that only wish to inflect suffering on others. These are no longer the angry dead, but the toxic dead. They are polluted, and poisonous.

The question that came up in discussion was; what can we do about the angry dead and/or the toxic dead?

Caring for the Angry Dead

Several different people at the discussion group weighed in on this topic, and I thought their responses were nothing short of fantastic. I wanted to recap a few of the ideas here.

1) I briefly hinted at this in my last post, but I wanted to reiterate here. “Rest in peace” is not just a quint platitude, but is often the motivation behind burial ceremonies and mourning rites. The idea being, to help placate and “heal” the angry dead, and help them work through unresolved issues so they don’t become toxic.

Death ceremonies are also for the living. Like I mentioned in the last post, violent deaths hurt/wound the living too. The connections we share with the dead (especially loved ones), are torn away, and “tear out” pieces of our spirits too. In the case of violent death, healing is for both the living and the dead.

2) Offerings and placations. The idea being to help the angry dead come to terms with what has happened. To help “calm” them, and to help heal them. This can be a lot of work, and a lot of negotiation. They fact is, like many angry people, the angry dead might not listen, or might not accept what has happened to them. There are a lot of different forms this can take.

3) Holding space for them. The idea here being, creating a space or environment that gives the angry dead proper space and the time to work through their unresolved anger, so that it doesn’t become toxic. It might involve any or all of the things listed above. The way I understood it, the point is to make the angry dead “comfortable” and “sage”, so that they have the time to calm down and work through their death in a more constructive manner.

4) Banishing. Sometimes, the angry just don’t listen, and you can’t get them to calm down no matter what you do. Sometimes those feelings of anger might go unresolved, or the dead may openly refuse to face them. What do you do in that case? One of the points that was raised was to “take all their energy and get rid of them.” The point I think is if the angry dead refuse to be cooperative, sometimes the best thing to do is to protect yourself and those around you. To “diminish” the angry dead, and send them away, minimizing both the harm to yourself as well as others. This can apply to the toxic dead too.

Caring for (dealing with?) the Toxic Dead

One of the questions that was raised during the discussion is; what do you do about the toxic dead? Keep in mind we are talking about a whole other level of nasty here. While it is in some way normal for the dead to be confused, or even angry (in the case of violence), the toxic dead are what happens when that anger and hatred goes unacknowledged and untreated. To use a rough analogy, it is what happens when deep wounds go untreated, and become infected.

When the anger is left to fester, the hatred left to ferment, and the calls for vengeance and the sufferings for others becomes the only motivation, that is when you get the toxic dead. And speaking frankly at this point, there is little else anyone can really do for them at this point. In my own experience, they don’t tend to listen to reason, or even want to be placated. They want to stay angry, and they want to hurt people. I don’t much care for dichotomies, but the toxic dead may be a case of the truly evil.

I would say once the dead become toxic, there is little left in the area of diplomatic solutions. Only two real options are left for dealing with the toxic dead.

1) Banishing: As I raised this point previously, I am not going to harp on it all that much. The idea being, is diminishing the toxic dead so that they can cause little harm to others, and sending them away. This can be a lot more difficult with the toxic dead, for reasons I will detail in a minute

2) Pulverizing: This might strike you as an odd word choice, but hopefully you will see what I mean. As I said before, death is a kind of “breaking” of the spirit into various parts. Violent death is more of a “shattering.” However, it is some of these pieces that remain behind that become the toxic dead. They can be “broken/shattered” again. In other words, the dead can die again. They can be shattered to the point that they are practically nothing, or have been pulverized into something else. I imagine it as a kind of spiritual entropy.

Perhaps a good analogy is a clay pot. For most of its life, it could be considered whole. But then it falls off the table. Smash! In effect, the pot has ceased to be a whole pot, just as the dead have ceased to be living. But the parts still remain. If you had the reason to, you could keep smashing those shards until they are nothing but fine clay sand. That is a far cry, and quite distinct from being a whole pot.

All analogies aside, I feel a certain disclaimer is in order. I feel “don’t try this at home” doesn’t really convey what I am trying to say here. Inevitably, there is going to be that person that reads this and goes off to hunt for the toxic dead.

Don’t. For the love of whatever you cherish, Don’t. I do not have heaps of experience with the toxic dead, but the ones I have encountered are nasty. As in don’t ever try this by yourself kind of nasty. This was a point actually raised during the discussion. These sorts of spirits are really bad news. Like one person taking on an armada bad news. You would be the one, of course. Unless you brought an army, which is kind of the point. Don’t deal with these things alone, and specialists in nasty things should probably be among them. Allies are important. Also, so it a crapton of heavy caliber cleansing. In my experience, not only are they singularly nasty, they also have a habit of polluting other things, infecting other people. They like to spread that shit around.

Think of Nago the boar demon from Princess Mononoke. Think of the pollution monster voiced by Tim Curry in Fern Gulley. Seriously, don’t try this at home.

Military Dead

All of this could imply that there are very serious implications to not only being killed, but the taking of other lives as well. I speak as a hunter here, and as I mentioned in my last post, taking a life does something to your own spirit.

This is some thinking out loud, but something I also mentioned in the discussion. I wonder about soldiers, not just ours, but everyone’s. Regardless whether “enemy” or “friend”, most soldiers either have taken lives, or had their own taken from them.

I wonder about those military dead that still linger.

But I also wonder about those that came back, the ones that lived. Righteous or not, they still have the dead on their hands. Would they come back with broken spirits, carrying the weight of the dead? I would think so. I would also say there may well be a deep spiritual component to things like PTSD.

I do not think anyone can be that intimate with violence and death, and not be effected by it.

How many military dead still linger? How many broken spirits came back?

Native Americans

Which leads me to my next session of thinking out loud. Here in America, we built our country on the genocide of Native Americans. The bodies of those dead are under our feet. How many of those people have been left unattended, left to fester?

Hell, when you drive away and kill the people that care for them… Would it be a surprise if they were left untended?

You always see how bad things get in movies when a house or something is built on a Native American burial ground. What about a country?

Do those of us still live still bear the scars of the deeds of our ancestors?

In some way, I think we all carry the burdens of the dead.


Wow, that got heavy… Thanks for reading!

The World of Tomorrow

I have been spending a fair amount of time recently reviewing scientific and technological breakthroughs, and some part of it over at Futurism. It has given me quite a bit to think about, and as a writer, more than a little to inspire me. I am starting to feel that sci-fi itch again.

Some really cool things are in the works in the world right now folks, and it all has left me wondering what the world (Solar System?) is going to look like in my lifetime. Inevitably, most science fiction comes out to be speculation. Sometimes we writers get things right, and some times we are way off the mark.

There was an article I read recently here, that talks about some of the inventions that the Star Trek Franchise got right. It is no secret of course that I am a big fan of Star Trek, for a great many reasons. I grew up watching The Next Generation with my father, and that cemented the love of sci-fi in my mind real early. In addition, the amount of science, philosophy, and tackling of complex social issues strikes a special cord in my heart and mind.

But all my gushing about Star Trek aside, I make it a point to (at least) try to keep up with a lot of exciting things that are happening now, or just over the horizon. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of bad in the world, and plenty to come but the ways things are heading, gives me a little room to be optimistic. Maybe not Star Trek optimistic, but cautiously and realistically optimistic.

So the question is what the future of humanity might look like? The podcast shared by Futurism is a good start.

Things like Solar Farms…

And renewable energy more generally. I written here before about some of the problems that we might face in the near future, with oil being a renewable resource and all. Still, there was an article recently by Bloomberg that suggests we might be turning a corner in the near future. The short point being that we might be reaching peak fossils fuels, and not because of supply, but because of DEMAND. I think that is a very important thing. Still, there are some very real problems there, most of them to do with climate change.

Things like Sustainable Communities and Future Cities

I am going to be tracking the Regen project with much interest, because I think we really need to rethink how we structure our cities and our communities. We need to be operating in as closed of loop as possible, from extraction to deposition/recycling. We need to rethink our entire consumer culture, and get as far away from disposable goods as we can. We need to be creating things that can endure, instead of things that are used once and thrown out. On the whole, I also think we need to be creating things that are easier to recycle. Not only should our products last longer, but they should be easier to reclaim once they come to the end of their life. Seriously, check out The Story of Stuff if you have not already.

Things like Vertical Farms…

Part of sustainable communities will come down to land use. While things like Regen are really exciting, not all cities and communities will thrive on that kind of model. In addition, there are 7+ billion people on this planet, and so land use issues and feeding all those people become important considerations. Let’s be honest, agriculture is incredibly land intensive. It leads to things like deforestation, because those pesky trees are taking up all the arable lands.

For the record, I happen to like those pesky trees.

I think vertical farms are one possible solution to those issues, and one way to feed people in urban situations. In addition to things like community farms, and rooftop gardening, vertical (up or down) farms could be one method of feeding populations without the need for more acreage of land. There is also the potential with vertical farms to solve some of the land use issues associated with biofuels. Ethanol and bio-diesels will be needed, at least in the short term. In an ideal world, we would move our transportation sector to full electric, which would be powered with solar, wind and others in the mix. But that might not work for larger vehicles, such as trucks and ships. They might need a little more oompf than electric can provide. Maybe that is where ethanol or bio-diesels can come in.

But we have to face facts, more than just oil is finite on this planet. Livable space, resources such as metals and minerals, eventually we are going to run into limits on many things. No matter how efficiently we recycle our metals, our glass, our plastics, eventually there just won’t be enough to go around. Especially if we can’t get the population rate to stabilize. And even if we do, there is that whole entropy thing, and that waste happens.

Which leads me to conclude, no matter how sustainable our civilization, in the long run one planet won’t be enough.

Which brings us to things like… Starbases

Larger stations and “hubs” for space travel will be essential as we move out into the Solar System. The fact that the ESA already has near-term plans for such things is an impressive feat, especially as things like the ISS are more geared for research than jump-off points. The research is essential of course, and the knowledge and practical know-how learned from the ISS will be used for future endeavors. Plus, there are countless applications for manufacturing and space ship construction without those pesky things like gravity.

Things like the Moon

I have made the case for many years that we need to return to the moon on a more permanent basis. Not only does it have about 1/4 the gravity of Earth (making things like rockets easier to launch), it could also serve as a way station on the way to Mars, or further out destinations. It could also serve as a source of select resources and minerals, and maybe even as a refueling station for farther treks.

Things like… Mars

There are countless Mars-based projects in the works, from Elon Musk to NASA, and more besides. They vary quite a bit in timeline and ambition, but I think that Mars is a logical step in our journey out into space. Like the starbases and the Moon, Mars could be useful as both a waystation, and for resources as well as well research. In addition, it gives easy access to one of the most resource abundant locations in the system. The Asteroid Belt

And things like asteroid mining

I am all for making our civilization(s) as sustainable as possible. Hell yeah let’s go for that green revolution. But at the same time, I still harbor dreams of moving out into space, and for that we are going to need greater access to resources. Whether increased population and development on Earth, or on other worlds, we are going to need these things. Asteroids provide a great opportunity for resource extraction. Many mineral and metal resources are finite, and with asteroids we don’t have to go tearing up ecosystems and habitats to get at them.

As I have said many times before, as cool and as geeked as I get about all the science and technology; those things alone won’t be enough to create the world of the future.

We will need changes in policy that are forward thinking, as well as changes in culture and economics as well. I have made it no secret that I closely align with the ideas in the Nordic model, a kind of social democracy. A big part of that is because I believe strongly that we are in this together, no matter what color our skin, our gender, or our religious beliefs.

And we need to start acting like it. Sustainability, reciprocity, equality, democracy.

That is what I would like to see in the world of tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!


Angry Dead, Toxic Dead

There has been a lot of distressing news lately, and it has left me distracted and heavy of heart. If you don’t mind, I would like to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming. There are a few things I think I need to say, and at least nod my head at recent events…

“What ghosts is our generation going to leave behind?”

The above quote came from the mouth of a comedian, as my wife and I sat in attendance to an open mic night. Yet, the question has sat in my mind, there is something very profound here, even it was just a set up for a punchline.

I have been working with spirits and the dead long enough to know that there is a difference between a natural death, and a violent one. Death, as I have come to understand, is a kind of breaking, a form of spiritual and physical entropy, when all we are breaks down and turns into something else. My body, my physical self, will go to the worms (burial), or the clouds (burning), and/or any other form of final end I choose. It could become a tree if I wanted.

But that is a topic for another time. Other parts of my spiritual self will be broken away; some to join the ancestors and live on, others to be lost and recycled. Some part of who I am will live on in my descendants (ideally), and live on in the memories of those I touched.

That is the thing, that people we truly love and touch in our lives; we become part of them. We “spirit swap” for lack of a better phrase. We take part of them into ourselves, and they take some part of us. A bond is created, a connection. That connection is broken (or greatly diminished), when one of those people passes on. A hole is left in the one that still lives. I know I have felt it. That void that is left when a loved one passes.

But all that assumes a natural death. A violent death is very different, at least in my experience. It is not just a “breaking” down of the physical/spiritual self. It is a sundering, a tearing, a shattering of the body as well as the spirit. While a natural death can be seen as the spirit “passing” out of the body, a violent death is the spirit and body being torn apart, and torn to pieces.

This leaves behind angry spirits, not just confused ones. Ones with anger, and calls for vengeance. It is felt too among those that still live. Their spirit is wounded as well; as one spirit is ripped away all those it was connected to feel the pull. The living are wounded, and broken, just the same as the dead.

Perhaps Yoda said it best;

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Also, as I have mentioned many times before on this blog, perhaps Princess Mononoke is a good example as well, the part in the beginning when Nago falls in the village.

““Oh nameless god of rage and hate, I bow before you. A mound will be raised and funeral rites preformed on this ground where you have fallen. Pass on in peace, and bear us no hatred.

To which the boar responds;

“Disgusting little creatures. Soon all of you will feel my hate, and suffer as I have suffered.””

That is an angry spirit, which is exactly the point I am trying to get at. As a hunter, I am complicit in my share of “violent” deaths, though the intent might be debatable different. I would contend that there is a difference between hunting (food) and murder (killing). We can split those hairs later.

The point being, is that I have first hand experience of the kinds of spirits violent death spawns. They are sundered and wounded, confused as well as angry. My first task after a kill is to do everything in my power to placate and make peace with that angry spirit, and often its ancestors as well. In short, I have to heal what is broken.

But I cannot in good conscience say that is true of every violent death in the world these days. I would suspect that proper burial, mourning and grief from the living goes a long towards healing broken spirits, and healing those wounds in both the living and the dead. ‘Rest in peace’ is not just a quint curiosity.

Yet, there are those that are dead from violence that are never properly healed and placated. And that is when the words from Yoda ring even more true. Something starts to happen to the angry dead after they go untended for a time. That anger starts to fester into hate, and something else. Like a deep wound without treatment, the angry dead start to fester. and become infected. That is when they become the toxic dead. They become like Nago, a demon. Something that becomes hell bent on others suffering as well.

So I want to return the original question of this post. What ghosts are we leaving behind? What angry spirits are left untended to fester? Wars, mass shootings, racial violence… The list is a long one.

I will let Jigo have the last word;

“These days, there are angry ghosts all around us. Dead from wars, sickness, starvation, and nobody cares. So you say you’re under a curse, so what, so is the whole damn world.”

Animism and Capitalism Part 5

“Ultimately we must face the need for radical change. The ecological crisis is more than question of environmental destruction and human misery, for it is at root a spiritual crisis. Genuine alternatives, revolutionary alternatives, require remarkable imaginative leaps… We must think beyond ourselves. Not simply beyond the conceptions, categories and habits which tie our minds to established ideological models. We must go beyond, to imagine what has never been conceived of, to dare to demand what contemporary thought considers impossible.” – Adrian Harris

The ability and vision to build a better town, a better future for everyone. That is what we have to imagine. This is an immense work of such grandness and scale, that it will bring with it a whole new world, and a new way of thinking. It will take time, it will take resources, and it will take us to take a good, long hard look at ourselves, and change what needs to be changed.

And it will not be easy.

In Part 1 of this series, I analyzed Princess Mononoke and explored some of the animistic and environmental themes present throughout the movie. That is what began this series, and the realization that we have to find a new way for the forest and the humans to live in peace, a way to (re)integrate humanity and nature. I have written a fair deal about hunter-gatherers on this blog, and have explored how some of them didn’t see a real divide between nature and society. This is a big part of animism as I understand it, and the wall we have built between ourselves and nature has been to our detriment. Some hunter-gatherers saw nature as part of the social world. We have lost that understanding, and replaced it with the idea that we are superior to nature, and that it exists to meet our needs. We often look upon nature as a source of resources. We need to work to knock that wall down, and (re)balance nature and humanity.

In Part 2 of this series, I explored the ideas of science, technology and industry. I think these things will all have a part to play in the future, but that we seriously need to rethink how we do things. Many industries are culpable to the growing pollution and environmental decay on the planet. So is technology, though not wholesale. We will have to take a long, hard look at how we do all these things. Things like cars, factories and coal power plants are polluting the planet, by means of mechanical necromancy. We are quite literally burning the remains of the long dead to drive our civilization. We have the means and the ability to change that.

In Part 3; I explored a little bit of corporate and capitalist ideology. It is not just the technology and industry of our culture that has to change, but much of the thinking behind it. Corporate methods of management seem to have pervaded nearly every part of our society. From government to university. The problem itself is complex, and any possible solutions are far from simple. We are not simply talking a technological revolution, but a cultural, social and political one as well.

In Part 4; I talked more about the Nordic Model. To me, this is part of that social and cultural shift that desperately needs to happen. A social and economic system that acknowledges wholesale that needs of the many are more important than the needs of the few. In America, what we have is nearly the polar opposite of this. Our version of Robin Hood is backwards, and our many of our cultural values seem to want Spock to burn a terrible death. As I pointed out, a Princeton study recently came to the conclusion that America is in fact an oligarchy, not a democracy (or republic).

There is no way to deny that some very real challenges face us as a species, and a planet full of species. It is enough for anyone to succumb to despair. Still, I look at the trends and see them as encouraging. The amount of renewable electricity may not yet meet demand, but it has grown year after year, and is expected to continue to grow. The same is true of hybrid, electric and alternative fuel vehicles; also with expected continued growth. This is no way minimizes the very serious challenges ahead. Oil is still cheap and profitable, and none of these technologies will really become dominant if that remains the case. But we know that won’t always be the case, and even some of the oil companies are starting to hedge their bets with alternatives.

On top of that, I see subtle signs that our culture and social climate may be changing as well. Bernie Sanders is a proponent of the Nordic Model, and might actually have a chance at becoming the Democratic nominee. Also, I find that the UN Sustainable Development Goals also mesh well with very same model. Is it a long shot? Maybe. The point is that the signs are encouraging, even if they are moving forward at a “two steps forward one step back” pace.

As I practice animism, the foundations of this worldview is the the world is full of people, only some of which are human. In addition, relationships and reciprocity are also basic components to my animism. In a very real and literal sense we are connected to either other person on this planet, ecologically, biologically as well as spiritually. The consequences of our actions have very real repercussions across the whole of these connections.

We are in this together. That is the conclusion of my worldview. And by “we” I do not mean simply humans, but all of the environment and nature that surrounds these things. So too are the big machines, the cars and energy infrastructure that is simultaneously heating and lighting our homes, and at the same time polluting the planet. The machines (as they are people too) have to change their relationship with the Earth, as much as we have to change our relationship with the machines.

It is up to us to facilitate this process. There is not one of us that is not implicated in these problems.

Between climate change and the reality of peak oil, we have some very hard challenges ahead of us. Climate change may well be beyond our control, though we can limit our influence and contributions to the process. Peak oil is another matter, and I think we have the means to endure beyond the very real limits it will place on our civilization. In addition, not only to we as a species have the means to endure, we have the means and capacity to build a better future civilization in the process. That process is already in motion.

That is what my animism teaches me. Long gone are the days where we can only think about ourselves. Long gone too are the days of the rugged individualist, and the society that only cares about itself.

That is why I like the Nordic model. A social, political, economic and cultural system that acknowledges this conclusion; that we are in this together. Our technological reality needs to reflect that too, that more than just ourselves are at stake. Long gone too are the days where we run our machines on the long decayed bodies of the dead. Our common kin in all life deserve better than that.

Culturally we need change. Politically we need change. Technologically we need change. Environmentally we need change. This is not to say that any of these changes are small tasks. These are bigger tasks than any one person, as big as the whole of the planet in fact. That in and of itself makes this all seem damn near impossible.

But it is not impossible, but nor is it easy. All the same it has to be done, for the present and for the future. If it is true that we reap what we sow, than we are reaping what our predecessors have sown.

At the same time, we are planting the seeds for the future. Shall we continue to plant the same seeds of destruction that have been left to us, or shall we plant the seeds of tomorrow?

So I ask, what shall we grow?

“This is your world. These are your people. You can live for yourself today, or you can help build tomorrow; for everyone” – VNV Nation “Foreword”


Adrian Harris, as quoted in Global Implications of Animism from a Thea/ological Perspective. In “Engaging the Spirits”, edited by Lupa.