Tag Archives: ecology

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/

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Finnish Folk Belief and Shinto

As I was writing some of my thoughts down on my previous post here, I was struck with some more thoughts when I started writing this section;

“Yet, the gods as a kind of ancestral guardian invested in humans. The gods as a “guardian of humanity that has protected its own kind, in a way safeguarding the survival of a certain species by returning dead or slaughtered humans back to life on earth” and “the eldest of the species or the first representative of humanity.”

There is something there that resonates with me.” – Me

Something has been playing on my mind since I wrote that down, and that was the curious parallels between what I was writing, and my love of Hayao Miyazaki movies.

As I said, this has resonated with me, and in this post I am hoping to explore a little more of the reasons why. As I wrote the above quote, I kept thinking about characters from Princess Mononoke. As I wrote about haltias as “guardians” and “eldest of the species”, I kept thinking about Moro, the wolf god, and Nago the boar god, and others as well. In the movie, Moro is referred to both as a wolf god, and a member of the Wolf Clan/Tribe. There are also references to the Boar Clan, and the Ape Tribe/Clan.

And my mind kept turning and turning. In many of Miyazaki’s movies, you see forest gods, forests, spirits, and little stone altars, structures and statues. All of this kept running through my mind as I wrote about hiisi woods and stone altars and cups, and ancestral woods. Bridge lead to another bridge, as the connections fired across my mind.

I cannot help feeling there is something a lot more to this. I also realized that I don’t really know much about Shinto, which inspired Miyazaki to put many of those ideas in his movies. But at least superficially, I am starting to see a lot of parallels between Finnish folk belief, and some of the ideas of Shinto, which is often described as an animistic/polytheistic system.

Which makes the timing of this article even more convenient. The article is titled Pagan Temples and Shinto Shrines, by Megan Manson. Here I am going to quote from the beginning of the article;

… But there are differing opinions within the Pagan community when it comes to the idea of building temples. On the one hand, some love the idea of having a building where Pagans can all go to honour the deities safely and comfortably. On the other hand, there are Pagans who see their “temple” as being all around them – in the form of the forests, rivers, mountains and oceans – and so a man-made temple is not necessary.”

I have struggled with this question for some time, and I don’t think it is really an either/or question. For those that want to build temples, build temples. For those that want to be outside, go outside. There is not any superior position between these two things, but there are questions of upkeep to be sure. Can the community support a temple, or a smaller shrine? Obviously “natural temples” pretty much take care of upkeep on their own, but then it is on the human to make sure the place is properly respected.

But I digress a little bit, as it is a later statement in the article that really struck home for me;

When I read these debates, I think that Shinto has a good solution. Shinto does have shrines and other man-made constructions that serve as places of worship. But compared with churches, mosques, gurdwaras and the places of worship of many other religions, Shinto shrines are for the most part quite small and low-key. Some are tiny hokora, “spirit houses” that range from the size of a bird house to the size of a small shed and are often found tucked away at the wayside or deep in forests. Then there are larger ones, jinja”.

As I mentioned Miyazaki movies earlier, when I think of the hokora, I think of My Neighbor Totoro. There are several hokora pictured throughout the movie. More importantly to the overall story, there is a giant tree that is pictured as surrounded by hokora, as well as what may be part of a larger structure. Notably, this tree is also the home of Totoro, who is a spirit of the forest and of nature.

Finnish folklore and folk beliefs are embedded with very similar objects, which I have talked about in other posts. The Finnish Folklore Atlas is full of maps that show the sites of hundreds if not thousands of stone altars, stone cups, and hiisi trees.

At the end of the Manson article; there is something that kind of stuck with me;

But even within the forest, there are continual small reminders that you are in a sacred place – stone altars, shimenawa ropes tied around trees or by waterfalls, the tunnels of red torii gates, and of course, thousands of fox statues, the guardians of Inari. But these objects never overwhelm their natural surroundings – instead, they are designed to be harmonious with the environment.

This is what I think Pagan places of worship could be like. Rather than being enormous, grand monuments of human architecture in which dozens, if not hundreds, of Pagans can gather under a roof and away from nature, I believe they could be small and understated, serving merely as an indicator and reminder of the sacred significance of a particular place without seeking to dominate it.”

This is not to say, as Manson points out, that things like the Valheim Hof are not truly amazing and wonderful. Nor it is to say that they are wrong, or that we should avoid doing things like that. What I am saying is things like Shinto and Finnish folk belief gives us models that we can use as inspiration, without excluding things like the Hof of course.

There is more I would like to say here, because recently John Halstead brought up an idea that has been incorporated into my own practice, and serves as a great compliment and supplement to the idea of haltia shrines.

Recently, Halstead published the article here, and I wanted to spend a little bit of time with it because the idea of eco/spirit shrines is an important one. I am not going to go into all the details here, so you should give the article itself a read.

As I already said I have already incorporated this idea into my own practice. I cannot remember where I was first exposed to the idea, only that I thought it was a good one. I now regularly leave eco-shrines behind when I hike and explore new grounds and get to know my natural neighbors there. In addition, I have also taught this idea to my small working group, and it is something we have done together as a group activity.

Halstead adds this to the conversation;

At first, at least, we would have to expect that these shrines would be removed by landscaping or maintenance staff or desecrated by ne’er-do-wells or iconoclasts. But one of the advantages of the eco-shrine is that it is relatively easy to rebuild. Some people are bound to be creeped out by public shrines. But I imagine that, if we kept returning to the same spot, rebuilding our natural shrines, that one day we would find that someone else had followed suit and built an eco-shrine before us. And after years, the place might indeed become a holy place in the mind of the non-Pagan public as well.” – Halstead

There is something very important here too. While most eco-shrines are natural and biodegradable (as they should be), there is something to the idea of semi-permanent or otherwise “marked” locations. I have my own habit of mapping where I leave my shrines, because they are often places that “call” to me, and place I might return to. Arrangements of stones, a particular tree, a body of water, that kind of thing. The point being that the trees, stones, and lakes are not going anywhere (generally). They are much more permanent sites. And maybe after years as Halstead points out, these might be regular pagan shrine locations, something like we see in Shinto or the FFA.

I think there is plenty more here to consider, and I might come back to this in future pieces.

But as always; thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Manson “Pagan Temples and Shinto Shrines”

My recent FFA Reflections

Halstead “Eco Shrines”


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”

References/source;

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

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=23692

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=24792

http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-18/swedens-capital-its-way-becoming-fossil-fuel-free-2040


Finnish Folklore Atlas Part 1

For those of you that might be interested, I would like to draw your attention to the top of the page. There is now a master index for my various series. Makes navigation much nicer. On to the meat and potatoes.

It is time to start digging into the Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. As I have mentioned before, this is an immense work, compiled over thirty some years. It is simply a treasure trove of information, and much of it is applicable to my path and the things I believe. Now, I will admit, some of the things I will touch upon I have talked about before. Some repetition will result, whether because other scholars have referenced/quoted this work, or because other scholars have come to similar conclusions. Either way, it gives me a chance to revisit some of these ideas and develop them further.

For the first part of this series, I want to look at the ecological role played by hunters of the past, and in some way, hunters of modern times as well. Sarmela lays out a 6 point framework for discussing these ideas. I will go through them one at a time and add my own thoughts.

(1) Hunters have a detailed knowledge of the living area, nature and
animal behavior. Northern hunters possessed extensive knowledge of the geography of their environment
and their hunting routes stretching to hundreds of kilometers.

This is equally true of hunters today. It took me several years of scouting and hunting to learn trails and animal patterns, and there is still so much to learn. Now, it is hard to say how far my hunting routes travel. I guess they might span hundreds of kilometers, but I certainly don’t cover that all on foot or horse, as hunters of the past did. My truck does most of the long range work. That being said, my travels on foot can range from a few hundred feet to over a mile per trip, depending on where and how I am hunting. Sometimes I sit in a stand, sometimes in a blind, and sometimes I range and scout a bit. It varies, depending on what prey I am hunting and how I go about it.

(2) Hunting communities adapted directly to their habitat.

This does not come into play as much as it once did. Part of the reason is civilization itself, and that hunting is more of a hobby now then our primary occupation. As such, those of us in modern times are more removed from that habitat then we once were. In fact, we are removed from a lot of things. Many of us are not even farmers any more, so we are removed from the habitat, from our food production, from a lot of things. That disconnect is a problem in my opinion. We are no longer as close to nature as we once were, and so, separate ourselves from it. Ancient hunters did not experience that disconnect. They lived close to nature, in such a way that there was little if no separation between “society” and “nature.” The two were integral.

(3) Hunters lived in the real time of nature and moved according to the seasons, fishing, hunting or gathering whatever was best available at the time.

This one is interesting, for a lot of reasons. Modern paganism is coming back to this, being more aware of the natural progression of seasons and the cycles of nature, but there is still a pretty big disconnect there. Ancient hunters had no clocks, nor hours in the day, and so they tracked time solely by the seasons and the availability of food. When the bears went to hibernate was the start of winter. When they awoke began the spring fishing season. Reindeer migrate north in the summer when it gets too hot, they migrate south when it cools down again.

(4) One of the basic elements of the culture was mobility and social flexibility; families and kinship groups dispersed and gathered together according to the seasons or as natural conditions dictated, and were able to extensively and diversely
exploit their living environment, eliminating the environmental crises caused by variations in plant and animal stocks.

This one is twofold for modern times. On one side, we are more mobile than we have ever been in the past. We can go farther, and faster then we ever did before. In some way, families and kinship groups are more dispersed then in the past, because farther distances can now be covered in less time. Also, when I think about the holidays, we do generally disperse and come back gather back together at certain times, and certain seasons. And yes, we are starting to EXPLOIT our living environment, but not in any manner that resembles the ancient hunters. For our exploitation goes well beyond the season acquisition of resources as practice by the hunters. Generally, we no longer use our environment in a way that gives it time to recover, not to mention the mass extraction of non-renewable materials. It near impossible to say that our methods eliminate environmental crises. More honestly, if anything we are making them worse.

(5) There were numerous catch-sharing and hospitality norms in hunter-gatherer cultures; the catch
had to be shared among the camp and all those present. Sharing has also been a core element of the
philosophy of life. Sharing of all food ensured the social security of the community, and the individual
hunter or fisherman did not need to fear failure. Reciprocal sharing and hospitality also made possible
the coexistence and social exchange of hunting communities.

Ah, reciprocity, that beautiful concept! There is not much I can say here that I have not already said. Reciprocity is a core of my own practice, and relationships are maintained through a matter of exchange. A gift for a gift. This was not only a part of the hunters way of life, but a necessity. Failures happen in hunting. I have often come home empty handed. The way our society is structured, that is not a big deal. I won’t go hungry. But the ancient hunters did not have the luxury of supermarkets, of even mass agricultural. If they didn’t share, they just might go hungry. It also had a social aspect, that reinforced relations between people, as well as their environment.

(6) The hunter-gatherer did not monopolize nature or make a systematic attempt to change his environment.

This is where modern society diverge quite a bit. Hunters did not “possess” the land, and territories often were seasonal and dynamic. Private possession of land and resources was an idea that did not really take root until agriculture came around. Because hunters seasonally migrated and moved around, they did not, generally, “own” the land. Also, wide scale changes in the environment did not really come into effect until agriculture either. Hunters lived in the forest, and on the plains, and fished in the sea. To the farmer, you cannot plant a field in the forest. So you cut down the forest.

Alas, I cannot cover all the specifics and nuances, so there is plenty of more to come!

References;

Finnish Folklore Atlas, by Matti Sarmela. (Pgs 27 – 29)