Tag Archives: Relations

Animism and Relationships

I just want you all to know that you all are amazing! My hits on this site have been pretty steady, even though I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I would like lately. I have been really busy on other projects… In addition to a full time job, it is really taxing on my time. I have to pick and choose what I am going to devote my time and energy to, and sadly this blog has been low on the priority list.

At the same time, I really didn’t want to put this on hiatus while I worked on other projects. Still, I didn’t want to be putting out crap here (which tends to happen when my head is in something else), because I value myself as a writer of decent content. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; being a novelist and a blogger is really hard sometimes. Usually, I have to pick between one or the other. Either I am putting out good writing for a novel, OR I am putting out good writing for this blog. When I try to juggle both at the same time, the quality of each suffers. It’s all about time and energy management.

But all the same, THANK YOU, all of you, for consistently reading even when I am being neglectful. It really means a lot to me.

Now, into what I hope will be good blog.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, thinking about humanity, our civiliations, and its relationship to the environment. In many ways, that is one of the cornerstones of my animism; how we live in relation to one another. “One another” can mean other humans, or non-humans. Relations is a big wide sounding concept, and it is the thing that binds us all together.

The idea for this blog struck me while I was playing games one night. It should come as no surprise that I like to play games in my downtime. I especially like creative games, because it helps to keep the juices flowing without all that mucking about with “productivity.” It lets me wind down, and imagine all at the same time.

An idea struck me late last night when thinking about a couple of games I like to play; namely Starmade and Minecraft. While neither of these are perfect models, they can be used as interesting teaching tools.

For example, Minecraft is a rough model of a pre-industrial society. Most of the work is done by hand (survival mode), and is done mostly by human and animal power. It is a relatively low energy model.

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(We got pigs. We got farms.)

Starmade by contrast is an industrial model. Most extraction and production is done with powered equipment and industrial scale factories. It allows not only faster extraction, but also a significantly larger building scale.

This has both pros and cons. Minecraft has a much slower building rate, and generally a slower extraction rate. Starmade’s build system allows for much larger works on a much faster time scale. However, the extraction rate is also proportionally higher. It is possible in Starmade to build extraction equipment that mines entire planets.

Neither of these games have any real consequences for environmental exploitation. Unlike the real world.

At least in the vanilla versions of these games, there is no consequences in Minecraft if I level an entire forest to build a house. Hell, I could even burn the forest down without any intent of using the resources at all. It has no effect on the breathability of the atmosphere, or generally doesn’t result in the extinction of entire ecosystems. (A few pigs might die, but that might be the worst of it.)

In Starmade, as I mentioned before, you can mine an entire planet, a continent the size of North America if you wanted, and IT HAS NO CONSEQUENCES.

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(That is a mining ship. We aren’t even messing around anymore…)

That is not at all true in the real world, because everything is interconnected. If we treated forests as badly as I sometimes do in Minecraft, there wouldn’t be any trees left. Let’s not even talk about destroying entire worlds, because we only have one at the moment.

But we also have to face facts here. We still need resources, even if our civilization stopped growing today. We would still need timber to maintain homes, still need metal and concrete to maintain our infrastructure. Unless every single human on this planet dies (and no I’m not okay with this), we are still going to require resources to build and maintain everything we do. That is why sustainability is so important, and that is why we need to take a good hard look at our relationships with the environment.

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(Is this really what we want?)

In Minecraft, even trees can be replanted. Hell, they even grow at a crazy unrealistic rate. In the real world, can you guess how long the forest in the above picture would take in the picture to come back? Decades at least, centuries even.

Now, I want to say that I really do love playing these games.

But we also need to be realistic about these things. For example, let’s talk about efficiency for a moment. We live in an industrial economy, and that means we can do wonderful things like mass produce solar panels, wind turbines, and even rockets to the moon. We couldn’t do these things in a Minecraft style pre-industrial world.

But with that efficiency comes a cost. To keep up with an industrial production rate, we need an industrial extraction rate too. In Starmade I can make ridiculous large factories designed to build large ships such as Krom (not my ship by the way) above. However, those factories may also require me to WASTE ENTIRE PLANETS to keep up with their resource demands.

That is just not sustainable, especially in real life we one have the Earth. One little blue and green planet.

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(Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment.)

To circle back to the beginning of this piece; animism is all about relationships. Between humans, and between humans and the environment. It is the relationship between us and our technology, us and our civilization, and the entirety of the planet. These relationships have consequences, and we need to be honest about that. What do our relationships say about us?

What will our relationships look like in the future?

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(right: by Nick Pedersen left: a city in China.)

Thanks for reading!


My Polytheism

I read a fair bit, and when I stumbled across numerous posts concerning “My Polytheism”, I was inspired to write my own piece. In many ways, I have become a little disenchanted by “polytheism” as it is developing. I feel like there isn’t a place for people like me in it.

In addition, it feels like it getting really polarized. I am really turned off by a constant “us vs them” sort of rhetoric and mentality. Yeah, polytheism is diverse, and some disagreement is necessary and even healthy. But there is a huge difference between healthy boundaries, and wall building.

Which leaves people such as myself feeling caught in the middle and openly wondering if I have any place in polytheism, since some of what I read just sounds a lot like “no true polytheist…” Ugh.

As I have said many times before, I consider myself an animist first, and a polytheist by proxy. The reason for this is because in my world view, there is more than enough room for the gods. The logic is pretty straightforward; to me the world is full of people, most of which are non-human, and that we live our lives in relation to one another.

And it follows from this simple statement, that some of these persons might be what we call gods. It also implies, that the gods are persons, with all the free will, individual sovereignty, and agendas that may go into that. In addition, as persons, the gods have the inherent right to be treated with dignity and respect.

To put this another way, the gods are those concerned with our well being, and who are in a role with the influence to do something about that. There is so much more I could detail here, but I exempting for brevity. The implications of these few basic statements are huge, and cannot be understated.

Relationships

One of the basic tenets of my worldview is that life is lived in relation with others, and this too applies to the gods. My relationship with my gods is kind of unique, and there is no reason that another’s relationship should look exactly like mine.

Many of my friends are mutual, but we don’t all share the same relationship to one another. Some are best friends, some are close friends, and some are Facebook “friends”. The demands and obligations to each are incredibly variable, just as is my relationship to the gods. As such, others experience may vary, and that is okay. The work my gods have set out for me, may not be the same as someone elses. The same with how I interact and engage with them.

Just as a general example, most of my gods don’t really call for a lot of pomp and circumstance. The don’t seem to mind a little “dirt on the boots” so to speak, and so my standards of cleansing and purity are not the same as someone elses.

Having a sleepover at a friend’s house does not have the same standards as a Fancy Dress Party. If you are expected to look the part, you might want to make the effort. But that is all in the nature of my relations.

Or for another example, my gods might not ask me to put them first, or might ask me to engage in things like conservation, or building a better society, or engage in the retrofitting our machines and industry in order to build a more sustainable future.

The point is that working with the gods can take a lot of forms, and really that is between me and the gods. No one else gets to dictate the “true way” to do that. It is a dynamic and adaptable thing, and there is a near infinite variability in the relations between persons.

This variability is a great bridge into my next point.

Plurality and Diversity

Let me spell something out for you. I generally conceive of the gods as guardians of their respective species. At last estimate, there are some trillion + different species on this planet. Assuming a purely one to one basis, that could imply that there over a trillion gods on this planet.

And I think the “one to one” assumption is a bit faulty. Each species could have its own pantheons and numinous gods, just like the various cultures of humanity. I really don’t have the information to speculate.

This implies a huge amount of variance among the gods. The sheer plurality alone is enough to make my head spin. Trillions of gods, with trillions of unique personalities, with variable relationships between themselves and others. Each with different wants, needs and desires.

We are talking exponential plurality and diversity here. I don’t have the mental or computing capacity to give you an estimate of the kinds and numbers of gods, much less the dynamic and ever changing relationships they may create among others.

Which can be used to state bluntly and pointedly, there is no “one true way” to do this folks.

This is why I have a real problem with polarized rhetoric, and the “us vs them” mentality. It’s monochromatic, it’s binary, and it’s really quite simplistic. The world is a lot more complex than any black/white ideology can encompass. I get real tired of “hard liners” claiming we should all fit in neat little boxes. If we keep drawing lines and building walls, we may all find ourselves in solitary confinement.

I can distill it down to a few basic implications. What the gods ask of me may not be the same that they ask of you. They can change their mind and the nature of the relationship at a future time. Your relationship now may change over time. We should be mindful of changing contexts, and that the gods are both very diverse, as well as quite dynamic.

Oh, and context matters.

Modern Times, Modern Contexts

Let’s not deny the past it’s just due. It has given us so much in the form of knowledge and wisdom, and it is our task to carry this forward. But let’s not kid ourselves for a second. We live in very different times than our ancestors. We are not ancient Viking or Druids (though some of us are Druids to be sure*) , and that the context in which we have to frame those assumptions have changed quite a bit.

Let’s face facts, the world is a lot smaller than it once was. It is multicultural, and dynamic and really mindnumbingly complex. The same is true of our gods.

At no time in the past could our ancestors hop on a plane and be around the world in a few hours. They did not have trains, cars, or nuclear power, and this says nothing about the very neat things on the horizon.

Yet, this doesn’t mean our world without challenges. Our ancestors also didn’t have to worry about things like climate change (at least man made) or global pollution either. These are obstacles that none of us can tackle alone. As much as we all have our differences, we are all in this together.

With the gods at our sides; I like the odds.

Thanks for reading!

*Stated somewhat tongue in cheek.


I wish I had known… Part 2

I want to preface this one with the comment from Sarenth on the first part of this series;

”  I would like your thoughts on how your relationships with vaettir have changed over the years, what has helped make them successful, what has not, and where you see overlap in terms of spirits in general in regards to the paths you have walked.

I really like that you keep hitting on the idea that not everyone is good at everything. I also like that you noted you lack a god-phone, and that it is not as huge a part of your life as it is for others. I’m looking forward to your writing on your animism, and how that impacts/informs your relationships with the Gods. As a polytheist and an animist I do not feel I can separate the two; the former, to me, is informed by the latter. I’m curious if you have different feelings on this, and if so, what they are.”

I will start with the first part. One of my earliest spiritual experiences was with, for lack of a better word, a wisp. I was out walking as a young boy, I am not sure if I was with a friend or by myself, and I came across a marsh later in the day. It was kind of foggy over the marsh, because the day was a little colder. That is when I saw it, floating out over the marsh. I remember distinctly feeling as if I was being watched, and that “I am not alone” feeling. It made an impression.

An impression that was forgotten during the turmoil that was adolescence. Through hormones and high school, I generally went into book worm mode and acquired my love of reading. It was all about science in those days. I would honestly say I came real close to being an atheist. Yet, I remember the more I traveled (via books) out into the universe, the less meaning my life seemed to have. Through all the biology, astronomy, physics and everything else, I felt more and more disconnected from everything. Thus, I started looking for my spiritual self. I detailed this a little in my last post.

The long and short of this anecdote is, I ended up, figuratively as well as literally, remembering the wisp in my early days. I remembered the sensations, and the impression it left on me. I turned from science to spirituality, and in a way, remembered that there is more to life than all we see. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-science. Much the opposite in fact. It’s just I now think there is more to the cosmos than what we can sense. There is purpose around me, and will, and most of all, meaning. Science does not have a monopoly on all knowledge, it is just one path.

That touches a little on the first part. As to the second, that is no small fish. While I am not a big fan of the crushing debt, I do think it is fair to say that college, perhaps more than anything, where my animism got its start. Before that, I came into this like so many others. Through Wicca (ish) books and such. I started in some ways, without the spirits. I started with spells, charms and rituals involving elements like so many others. Most of these had little in terms of results.

As my anthropology degree progressed, so did my spiritual life. It went from energies, to the negotiation of spirits with will and conscious. Through my degree, I encounter thinkers like Tylor, where the term animism comes from (mostly), and Durkheim with his totems, Frazer and others besides. I studied all kinds of various cultures and beliefs, ancient as well as more modern. This impacted my worldview heavily. I went from treating with energies, to asking favors and building relationships. They were no longer just energies (except in the way all things are), but people, human and non-human alike. There were bird-people, and tree-people, and fire-people and so on and so forth.

This is the big difference between ‘old animism’ and ‘new animism.’ While a lot of Tylor and others work was colonial and imperial, treating animistic practices as primitive throwbacks to a day when man didn’t know any better. New animism gets away from that. From Harvey’s book, which I am rereading; “Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of which are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others.”

That is the core of what I do these days. For me, as I said in my comment in the last post, gods are included in how I define animism. Polytheism and animism are so closely related to me, I find little use except as a communicative shortcut for the former term. To me, there are divine-persons along with all the others. As far as relations go, this is key as well. It is my opinion that some of divine power comes through relations. While we could debate intrinsic power, say a god/giant versus a mortal, yes one is intrinsically more powerful, I think that more power/influence is derived through networks, alliances and relationships. Think about Christians. Jehovah’s power, especially on Earth, is derived through his network of followers. Same with Odin, and others. Shamans are much the same way, much of their power coming from their networks of spirits.

As far as results go, when I went from energies to spirits, I found an immediate difference. I could communicate my wishes, and had spirits that would listen. Spirits that would run messages, spirits that would mediate. Spirits that argued and made mischief. They ran the spectrum, and it was by no means a one way street. They asked, and do ask things of me as well. I have run messages for them, accepted limits and taboos, returned offerings in exchange for help and blessings. It is quite political in my opinion. More than that, it is relational, and good relations with spirits helps my work, and my results. Something I never got in the early days.

As far as all that paths I have walked, animism is what was missing in the early days. Wicca(ish), Celtic, Druidic, all of them lacked that core foundation. Energy work never worked, at least not for me. Only once I learned (relearned) of that wisp, did things finally start fall together.

Book list;

All that being said, I wanted to touch on a book list for beginners. Many of the books I had in the early days were “A Complete Idiots Guide” to something or other. I had ones for Paganism, Wicca, Natural Magick and Celtic Wisdom. All of these were very Wicca-centric, setting up the philosophy and rituals much the same way, with various Celtic or ‘Natural’ glosses. I would say good for beginners, but you will likely outgrow them in a year or two.

I also had Celtic Magic by D.J. Conway, and A Wiccan Bible by A.J. Drew. The Conway book is also very Wiccan-esque, with a Celtic gloss thrown over it. “A Wiccan Bible” is a decent book information wise, but it never quite clicked with me.

To be frank, much of what I do is defined from scholarly literature as much as from myths and folklore. My thoughts on this are several. Read the myths and legends as close to the “original” form as possible.

Start with the books if you can acquire them by borrowing or used. Keep in mind they will only take you so far. Most you will outgrow in less than a decade. The costs add up, trust me.

I will highly recommend Graham’s Harvey’s “Animism”, which gives a great survey. Once again, it is pricey. Look for it at libraries, especially colleges or universities.

Most of the books I do have are non-fiction and more on the academic side. But as much as book learning is a good start, I am going to stress experience as well, as well as networks. Practice, practice, practice. In addition, build your networks and find mentors. You do not know everything, nor will you ever. If there is something that interests you, find someone who has experience in that matter. Learn as much as they are willing to teach.

I will probably touch more on that in the next blog. Let me know if any of my readers have questions. It is always good to learn from others (see above point), and I would love some outside insights.