This is a special Earth Day post in the ongoing Deepening Resilience project organized by Syren Nagakyrie.
“We can make the Anthropocene into a new era for both our civilization and the Earth. In the end, our story is not yet written. We stand at a crossroads, under the light of the stars, ready to join them or ready to fail. The choice will be our own.” – Light of the Stars – Adam Frank
Happy (Belated) Earth Day everyone!
For this post, I wanted to explore something that has been on my mind for some time. We live increasingly in uncertain times, with the climate crisis on our doorstep, and whether we succeed or fail as a species is in the balance. That to me, gives Earth Day a whole different kind of meaning. A kind of urgency, to do all we can to make the future at least a little bit better.
It brings with it a deeper kind of spirituality. For me, animism and ecology are the two sides of the same coin. There’s a reason I started this post with a quote from Carl Sagan. I tend to be more naturalistic in my animism, as I don’t like to default to ‘occult’, ‘supernatural’, or ‘paranormal’ explanations in my understanding of the world. How I understand spirits, spirituality, and my place in the whole is just that, natural. No “outside” gods or spirits needed.
But what exactly does that mean? For starters, I have defined my version of animism many times before. I use Graham Harvey’s definition; that animism is view that the world is full of persons (most of which are non-human), and life is lived in relation to others. Animism as I understand it is worldview, a way of relating and connecting to the world.
Compare this to the definition of ecology; ecology is the branch of biology which studies the interactions among organisms and their environment. Objects of study include interactions of organisms that include biotic and abiotic components of their environment. – Wikipedia
In broad strokes, both animism and ecology are talking about the same thing from different perspectives; our relationship to the environment and the world around us. This is the delicate dance of science and spirituality. Physics, astronomy, biology, art, writing, stories, civilization, the Earth… All of it becomes an experience of the spiritual.
“Thus, strange and trite as it may seem, the survival of civilisation itself could in part depend on a fusion of science with animism.” – Stephan Harding
It should come as no surprise then that Earth Day in particular holds a special place for me in the procession of the year. I think it should be nothing short of a Global Holiday. This year especially, as we get report after report of the pressing problems of climate change. Earth Day is a day about Earth-Centric spirituality; animism and ecology. It asks us to question our relationships with the world, and our place upon it.
At the end of the day, we are the Earth. As Carl Sagan was so apt to point out, we are all stardust. We are the current result of billions of years of the life and death of stars, of billions of years of biological evolution on a single Pale Blue dot in the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy. We are all travelers on the only known Class 4* world, the only planet we know of that is home to life. We are all the children of the Earth and the land of waters of this world. That is true in the very real iron in our blood, the soil in our food, and the air in our lungs. We are the planet, and that makes the current crises all the bigger, and Earth Day all that more important.
“To truly come into a cooperative coevolution with a biosphere, a technological civilization must make technology – the fruit of its collective mind – serve as a web of awareness for the flourishing of both itself and the planet as a whole.” – Adam Frank
This comes with important implications of our relationship to the natural world around us. We are not separate from the planet, nor is our civilization from us. We are an extension of nature, and all our creations are an extension of ourselves. Planet’s are the engines of turning starlight into something interesting, and that makes our planet one of a kind. We are the children of starlight, and we are the Earth building amazing and wonderful things for itself.
The science is settled, that the climate is rapidly changing and this is mostly entirely the fault of us, the consequences of our actions and our relationships to the Earth. This is at the heart of both ecology and animism, our relationship to the land, the spirits, and the world around us. It asks us to live responsibly in a way that is sustainable, not only for ourselves, but for all of nature and the Earth.
“Sustainable Civilizations don’t “rise above” the biosphere, but must, in some way, enter into a long, cooperative relationship with their coupled planetary systems… “ – Adam Frank
The climate crises is all our unhealthy relationships with the planet coming back home to roost. We can no longer continue to burn fossil fuels, or continue to pursue economics that rely on growth for the sake of growth. That is not a healthy relationship, and it will be our downfall if we don’t correct the path we are on. We need to walk more softly, and be more aware of our actions and the consequences of our relationships. This is where animism and ecology both have lessons to teach. Indigenous people across the world form deep reciprocal relationships with their ecosystems, and those ecosystems build relationships with them too.
That is something that we lack in the West. For all our ‘progress’, for all of our science, we are broken and uprooted from our ancestral lands and cultures. In many ways, the world has moved on. Those cultures may not even exist anymore, and for those of you like me, ‘returning’ to ancestral cultures is not an option. Aside from financial limitations, and the time pressures of modern life, I no longer feel as I am ‘part’ of any of the cultures that I can claim ancestry to. I don’t speak the language, and I have never lived in the lands those cultures are rooted in. My ability to ever travel to them may well be a pipe dream.
Which means that animism and ecology ask me to engage where I am right now. In Michigan, in the lands of the Great Lakes. With the forest and wetlands ecologies around me, and those roots might start to form once more. I can start shaping new relationships, ones that live in mutually beneficial ways with my environment. Ways that help both my environment as well as myself to flourish. That work goes well beyond me, Earth Day, and even beyond my local ecosystems. This work is daily, weekly, yearly, season after season. This kind of work is a way of relating to and viewing the world, a lifetime of relationship tending. It includes me, the air, the water, plants, animals, humans, cities, civilizations, and eventually the Earth and the stars.
We as humans don’t get a pass, and neither do our civilizations. In a way, as an extension of ourselves, civilization is our process of bringing our intelligence to the planet, and the planet becoming ‘intelligent’ in the process. We need a plan, a blueprint for the next thousand years. Not only for ourselves, but for the planet too. Animism and ecology are at the heart of that too. Building relationships where all can not only survive, but flourish.
“Our project of civilization must become a way for the planet to think, to decide, and to guide its own future. Thus, we must become the agent by which the Earth wakes up to itself….“ Adam Frank
The climate crises to me presents a unique opportunity, I think, to get our shit together as a species. To understand ourselves deeply as a part of the Earth, not as in anyway separate from it. The planet is us, and we are the Earth. The climate crises represents not only the consequences of our action, but also a sobering view of our own power. Humanity has reached a point where we have the power to shape and change a planet, and not always for the best. With that kind of power, comes a great responsibility. A responsibility for the survival and flourishing of the entire planet. We have grown as children of the Earth, but now we are starting to mature. As we come of age, the health of our planet is starting to fail.
Will we be responsible children, and care for an ailing parent? The answer to that question stands firmly in the intersection of science and spirituality. In the understanding that we are the result of billions of years of emergent physics and biology. Once we start to understand that the earth is our flesh and bone, the waters our blood and sweat, and the airs the breath in our lungs… Then we start to realize that our relationship with the Earth is in need of a desperate rethinking.
“I am grateful for the new animism, because it counts for something. Its importance cannot be overstated. It is a beginning, even without the history and aboriginal connection to this land. It says the human is searching and with a need to be in touch with this land, or other lands of origins in a time when the world is so achingly distressed.” – Linda Hogan
Happy Earth Day!
* Class 4 is a category created by Adam Frank. Earth is the only known class 4 planet, which is basically a planet with a robust biosphere. Technically in Frank’s classification, the Earth is between a Class 4 and a Class 5 planet, which is a robust biosphere with a growing planetary civilization and intelligent species. That is, you and me.
Light of the Stars, by Adam Frank. 2018.
Hogan, Linda; quoted from her article in the The Handbook of Contemporary Animism edited by Graham Harvey