Tag Archives: Spirits

Complex Gods & Spirits

Gods are not separate disembodied ideals, but are instead the emergent agencies from the vast networks of ancient entanglements within which we are embedded…” – Mathieu Thiem, from “Interanimism”

(Image from Here)

Hello again folks!

I am working on a lot of different facets of a deeper dive into my animism right now. I apologize if it seems like I am all over the place, but I swear there will be a cohesion to all of this when I am done. My recent manuscript on animism has really got me thinking, and I want to dive deeper into all of complexity and nuance of how I understand animism. Who knows, it all may be the foundation of another book. *shifty eyes*

So, let’s jump right in it today. Some time ago, I wrote about all the various social and scientific theories I bring into my animism. Systems theory, complex systems, cybernetics, actor-network theory, and agential realism. There is a lot there if you care to (re)visit it.

But today, I want to dive a little deeper into how all that informs my animistic views of the world, and especially gods and spirits. My animism is built on relationships among persons. This can be be human persons, as well as non-human persons. My worldview is more than big enough for the beings we call spirits as well as gods.

You see, my animism is a complex one that allows me to look at ecological systems in the same way I look at civilizations and technological systems. It allows for a nuanced, systemic, and holistic view that covers ever aspect of the human and non-human beings on this planet, and off into the great Cosmos. Yes, it even allows me to contemplate those beings we might call gods.

It starts with the idea that the world is made up of complex systems. These systems make up our own bodies, with atoms in molecules, molecules in cells, cells in organs, and eventually the emergence that is ourselves. Emergence is a real foundation to my understanding of gods and spirits. The idea being that once you get enough “parts” in a network, new properties and characteristics emerge. We are more than the sum of our cells, more than our DNA, and the gods are more than just stories on a page.

They are emergent agencies that result from complex systems. Now, those systems can take a variety of forms, ecological as well as cultural. I will be exploring that all more in a moment, but for now there is a few other things I want to set up before we dive deeper.

There are complex systems around us all the time, from cities, to the human brain, and to the universe as a whole. Our cells are nested within our bodies, and we as human beings emerge from the relationships of trillions of cells. In the same way, are we the “cells” of the gods and spirits. To put this another way, we are the “components” that make up their complex systems. We are the cells in their collective agencies.

Now agency is a pretty simple concept, as it is the capacity of an actor to to act in a given environment. Atoms are agents, cells are agents, we are agents, and the gods are transpersonal agents. We are the cells in their multicellular being.

On top of this, complex systems (such as planets, cities, gods), have a form of what we might call a memory. Like an archaeologist digging into the layers of the Earth, the history of past civilizations are recorded in the memory of the planet. Layer by layer, we can see the story of what is remembered. The same is true in our own bodies, as our DNA contains layers and layers, some from our deep mammalian past, and deeper into the origin of life on this planet. If you dig even deeper, the elements in our DNA connects us to the very beginnings of the universe. That is what a complex memory looks like. Just as importantly, it gives us a sense of time. Systems can contain the history of past arrangements, a past, a present, and eventually a future.

If it is not clearly spelled out, this can happen at a variety of levels, and scales of being. That is why I think the basic concept behind orders of magnitude is a useful way to organize my thoughts on this.

Orders of Magnitude

(Order of Magnitude Image from here. It’s a huge and oblong image, please click on it.)

The image above is a big one, with a lot going on. This is a scale that considers the Order of Magnitude of the whole universe. In short, it is looking at reality from different levels of scale, grouped in powers of ten based on size. At the 1 meter scale we find a human being, in this case a small one. That is because this is the “center point” for this scale, one meter, or about 3 1/3 feet.

In orders of magnitude above and below humanity, we increase or decrease in scale. If we jump up a power of ten, we get to the 10 meter scale, which here is represented by a dinosaur. If we jump down by a power of ten, we arrive at the 10mm scale, or about the size of a human fingerprint.

This scale is useful because it allows us to consider the entire cosmos at a variety of different scales, from the quantum to the cosmic. I just finished reading a book called The Zoomable Universe, that explores everything we know through different orders of magnitude. It has been fascinating to think about this through an animistic lens, and how I understand where I stand in relation to everything else.

For example, we can consider gods on a very similar type of scale. I think of gods as emergences, arising out of complex systems of relationships. Some of these are solidly grounded in ecological (non-human) systems, and some are grounded in cultural (human) systems. It is useful to think of the ecological and the cultural as two points on a spectrum, and not as a dichotomy. Here, we can set up a whole range of god-like beings, from mountains to those like Odin, and anything in between. There is plenty of room for overlap here, or human – non-human combined systems. Gods in this way, can fall anywhere on the spectrum. More “wild” cultural gods like Skadi might fall somewhere in the middle or towards the ecological ends, where gods of civilization would be skewed more cultural. In this case, let’s use a god like Odin, who as chief of the Norse gods, is a pretty fair canidate for a “cultural” god. He embodies many aspects of Old Norse culture.

Why is this useful? Because on the whole it is all about the scale of a given system of relationship. Gods are generally considered as beings that are “greater” than ourselves, greater in scale and scope. That is where Orders of Magnitude become useful. Gods exist on “higher” scale than humanity, just like we as humans exist on a greater scale then the cells in our body. That is the principle of emergence, in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

So, if we jump up from humanity to the 10 meter scale, do we find gods here? This is the dinosaur level, and it might certainly be fair to consider dinosaurs as a type of gods. They are very dragon-esque, yes? That kind of scale comes with a certain kind of power.

At the same time, in a 10 meter space you can only fit a handful of (adult) humans. Maybe five to ten at the most, if they get cozy. Assuming around two meters of space per human, +/-. Yet, what might those ten humans do now that they have gotten cozy? Might they develop shared ideas and beliefs, common stories, and maybe even some sense of a small community? This is what a lot of pagans might consider a group spirit, which is fair to call a culture, even if a small one.

But what emerges from that tiny culture? Is the agential emergence of networked relationships of ten humans enough to make a god? Maybe, in the sense of egregores, a tiny one. The god of ten people in a complex system. A god at the scale of ten meters. Perhaps here, we can see the beginnings of what we would call apotheosis, in which a god is born. Obviously there is more complicated facets here, but let’s keep thing simple for now.

Cultural Gods & Spirits

(Social Network, from Wikipedia. Maybe our hypothetical village?)

Let’s go even bigger than that though. Let’s jump up another level, to the 1 kilometer level. How many humans can we fit in this kind of space? Well, if we figure two meters per adult human, we could probably fit up to five hundred people in this space. On the scale, this appears as the size of a meteor crater. Now, let’s assume a little bit less than five hundred people, so they have some space for things like houses and that kind of thing. So let’s halve the amount, and run with about 250 human people. A tribe shall we say?

Part of the reason I am using 250 is because this is the upper limit of Dunbar’s Number, which is the suggested cognitive limit of the number of stable relations a given human can maintain. In our little tribe, we are going to assume everyone knows everyone, and they get along reasonably well without being to factioned, and share a common set of beliefs and cultural ideas. They are, for our purposes, a fairly unified whole. Might be unrealistic, but stay with me.

Alright, so these people share a common culture; they have songs, stories, and dances. Shared works of art, and a common and language. They are also a pretty tight-knit community, and so they share meals together and sit around the fire at night weaving stories together. They also share rituals and ceremonies, and through all this they weave together the spirit of the village.

Or, shall we say a communal god at the scale of a kilometer? The god thus is the emergence of a complex series of networked relationships among the people of the village. Over time, this god changes and grows, and develops a history and set of stories associated with the people and their ancestors.

In even more time, those people continue to multiply and go on adventures to conquer new lands, or maybe even to convert people to the worship (and relational maintenance) of their god. In this way, we can scale this idea even further, to kingdoms, empires, and even nation-states. Yeah, I would suggest that things like cities as well as nations have collective spirits we might call gods.

Things like capitalism and socialism have communal god-spirits* of relationship too. The complex concepts might be considered incorporeal spirit-gods in their own right, as such ideas certainly have influence in our times.

Christianity for instance, has a billion people within it’s sphere. What kind of scale does God the Father, and Christ the son exist at in this context? It’s something certainly worth considering, and translates into a real social and cultural force. But that is well beyond the scope of this post. Let’s move on shall we?

Ecological Gods & Spirits

 

(Eco-cultural Island, my own design. Gods may be represented by the large colored circles. The small colored circles represent smaller scale beings in a network. Individual groves, water spirits, villages, that kind of thing.)

(Green = forest, Red = village, Blue = Water, Brown = Mountain. Notice the overlaps.)

As we jump up in scale, we come to the size of about 100km, or if we are following the scale about the size of a decent island. It is at this point that we have to consider all I have said in a wider animistic context. In previous sections, I talked about small groups of people, as well as a small village, but I confined myself to just human relationships.

As such, in an animistic worldview, I have left out a very important facet of the world; namely non-human persons. In the context of our small village, I have neglected the fact that these people are also in constant relationships with their environment; with the non-human and other-than-human world. They need food from the fields, timber from the forests, and waters from the river.

This expands greatly their web of relationships, and with the non-human persons of nature; plants, animals, rocks, waters, and air. These too, must be considered in an animistic context, because they are beings, spirits, and agencies in their own right. These persons, are also part of the same complex system and relational networks as the humans.

So while the god of the village is firmly planted in the cultural realm of the humans, the shaman of the village knows that other gods dwell just beyond the village as well. The shaman takes a deep trek into the woods, and here he finds the forest god. It emerges, just as the village god, from the complex networks of the forest. But this time, these are not human networks, but the complex ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, sun, air, water, trees, plants, and animals. This forest god, the shaman knows, is the god of an ecology.

Now, that may be an oversimplification on my part, but it sets up an example of the idea I have already discussed. That is, that some gods and spirits are the agencies of complex ecological systems and may well be distinct from cultural gods. Of course, there can be huge amounts of overlap. The idea of complex systems and animism more generally, is that we are connected to everything. At no point are ecological and cultural systems fully separated.

The reason I mention this is because it goes a long way towards explaining what in common parlance is often called Genius loci, or a spirit of place. Spirits are not necessarily dependent on the presence of humans to exist. They can be firmly grounded in ecosystems, whether or not humans are even in the area. Here we could further our distinction (as well as overlap) between ecological, and cultural god-spirits.

The collective, communal spirit of the tribe that lives on The Island is primarily a cultural god. It is the complex of human story telling, and human history. However, such a cultural god with also have strong overlaps with the ecology of The Island, and that too would become part of the spirit-system. Thereby we can see an enmeshed system at different scales, of human, ecological, and finally Island. At the scale of the Island, the Island spirit would thus include both the ecological as well as the cultural god-spirits at smaller scales. The whole, simply, is greater than the sum of the parts.

Global Gods & Spirits

Which means we can jump up another level, to the scale of 10,000 KM, which encompasses the scale of much of the planet. Here we are at the scale where all the ecological and cultural god-spirits start to blur together. While we can clearly see these beings at the scale of the village and even a bit at The Island, at the Planetary scale all ecological and cultural systems become part of the same whole. Which makes the Spirit of the Earth** something quite different in scale and scope.

It is fair I think to consider most pagan gods as cultural beings, and ones relatively small in scope. For example, when you consider that there are maybe a million or so pagans on the planet, and the Christian and Islamic gods alone can count a billion each towards their practice. Well, there is a noticeable difference in scale between Allah and Odin, if we consider worshippers as part of a given gods being/body/system. In this way, we are all part of the body of a god. We are all part of the complex community and system of worshippers that help to define those beings.

This is not to say that gods are “just” their worshippers, as they are greater than the sum of the parts. But just like in our own bodies, the parts matter, and contribute to the whole. That means, for say Odin, the complex mass of humans are part of that relationship. All the history, lore, UPG, SPG, and modern practices go into the “body” of Odin. The same is true of Christ and his Father.

In fact, with all the various traditions histories and (sometimes) conflicting narratives, we could ask the honest question of whether all Christs or Odins are the same, or if they are different beings with divergent systems? I mean, I have said before that I don’t think Comic Book Loki, MCU Hiddleston Loki, and Norse God Loki aren’t the same being, even if they share parts of a history and a name. Could there be a Baptist Christ, a Methodist Christ, and a Catholic Christ?

I don’t know, and that is well outside the scope of this piece. Less I get off on a tangent, I intend to stay on point. That point is, that Christ is probably bigger than Odin, as a measure of relative complexity and scale. At least when considered on human components of their being. Ecological non-human components would take a whole other essay.

But, in terms of collective complexity, the Planet exceeds them all, and indeed also contains them all within the complexity of the whole. Earth, as a god-spirit, is in this way “bigger” than all of our human gods, and bigger too than the forests, rivers, and oceans, that make it up. It is, in no small way, a whole organism.

Cosmic Gods & Spirits

But the scalability of complex systems does not end here. We can take it all the way up to the Cosmos as a whole. Such a being, made up of all cultures, all planets, all stars, and perhaps more than one universe, is similar in many ways to Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker. Such a being would be so far beyond my comprehension, I don’t even care to speculate. Perhaps a Cosmic Spirit, Great Spirit, Star Maker, might warrant the label of capital “G” God, and certainly there are those that would argue that point. Me, I don’t know.

Because after a certain level of complexity, it is beyond our cognitive capacities as individual humans to comprehend. I cannot fully understand the complex system that is my local city, much less that of the entire planet, and certainly not that of the entire cosmos. As much as I might try (and I will), I don’t have the faculties. It would take a being far greater than myself to be able to understand that kind of Cosmic Complexity. Maybe nothing short of a Cosmic spirit can understand such a thing.

I know this was a long one, and I applaud you for grinding through it. As I said at the beginning, this is part of a larger somewhat related series of posts, that is going to range from future worlds, to animism, to left-of-center politics. I’m working towards a synthesis of my animistic beliefs, and the future I would like to live in.

Thanks for reading!

Notes:

*I have used god and spirit somewhat interchangeably through this whole piece. That is because I view gods as basically “big spirits”, or spiritual beings at a higher level of complexity than humanity. Spirits, when I use the term, tends to refer to those at an approximately equal or “lower” scale of complexity. Gods are “greater”, spirits and ancestors are “equal to/less than”. It’s a matter of relative scale for me. IE, the spirit of an island I will probably call “god”. An individual oak tree, probably “spirit.”

** I personally prefer not to gender the planet, though it is often common for pagans and others to refer to the planet as “Mother Earth” “Gaia” or “Terra”. Even the name of Earth is actually a Anglo-germanic name for a goddess. I have trouble relating these concepts to the planet as a whole, because it is bigger and more complex than human genders, and includes countless species that don’t confine to these norms. Where I do use pronouns for the planet, I tend towards “they/them” because it is a complex pronoun that can speak of the planet in a singular way, a plural way, and a neutral way.

Sources/References;

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/a-cybernetic-animism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor%E2%80%93network_theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Barad

https://wovensong.com/2017/05/23/interanimism-on-the-mutual-inspiration-of-a-dreaming-earth/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-2/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-spirit-networks-and-emergence-part-3/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agency_(philosophy)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_magnitude

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genius_loci

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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/


Interanimism: A Brief Commentary

Hello again folks,

As a brief note, WordPress is telling me that today is my sixth year anniversary here at The Thought Forge. Hurray! It has been a pleasure writing for you all these years, and I hope to continue to do so into the future. We have nearly 930 email followers on this blog, and I thank each and every one of you for this journey so far! Now, onto the meat!

There have been a lot of great articles out recently concerning animism and relationships. Today I would like to take a more in depth look at one of the them Interanimism By Mathieu Thiem. It has given me quite a lot to think about, and I want to dig a little deeper into the article itself.

Now, I will not be examining the whole of the article, as certain aspects I still want to sit with for a while. Naturally, if you want to read the whole of the article in context, links are provided. I invite you to take a read before reading my own exploration.

Let’s start with a quote from the article, to really set the stage for what I am going to be talking about here;

“By intra-action I mean that each act upon an object is effectively co-creating both the actor and the object because it introduces a new parameter of relationships. The relationship of interbeing between the two are co-constitutional, they act as feedback loops that mutually affect one another.”

To put this into my own words, intraction is the mutual relationship between two actors/agents. Take for example to people in a close, intimate partnership. Say two lovers for example. The relationship is the whole construct for both the individuals themselves, as well as the greater connections between them. It is not a neither/or kind of thing, but a “and” kind of relationship. The two lovers are co-creating their reality, through cooperation, and conflict as well. The constant push and pull, the constant integrated creation of of thing greater than just two individuals.

This extend well beyond our persons as well, to include all of our relations to other humans as well as our environment. I will be detailing this more in a future post, with graphics and everything; mostly because this kind of thing is better illustrated with visuals.

The primary topic of this blog has been animism for a long time; using Harvey’s definition that the world is full of persons and that life is lived in relationships with others. The principle of intraction is that those persons are involved in a delicate relational dance that co-creates their reality. As Clifford Geertz put it so perfectly;

that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning” (Clifford Geertz, from The Intrepretation of Cultures)

That is really what my animism is all about, a search for meaning. That meaning, following the spirit of the article, is something we co-create with others in relationship. Returning to the article;

This brings us to Interanimism, the notion that existence is mutually inspiring and co-creating itself, animating its interbeing through intra-active relationships. Rather than seeing the world filled with particulated essences or souls, what would reality be like if we saw all matter as an emergent function of relationships and agency as the phenomenology of entanglement?

This really gets to the heart of animism as I understand it. I have said it dozens of times here, but I understand it in the way Graham Harvey articulates animsim; “that the world is filled with persons and that life is lived in relation with others.” Actors and agents (persons) are more than simply individuals in isolation, but a web of beings in a network. More than just defined by their individuality, they are defined by their connections to everything else. It also implies that by focusing on simply “atomist” perspectives, we miss a lot of the picture. As Thiem points out;

Rather than committing reductionist fallacies, we must come to observe matter as it really is, an emergent phenomenon of relationships. An atom is a construct of its relational existence…”

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a reductionist fallacies to look an individual entity is terms of itself, but it would definitely be missing the bigger picture of networked connections. As humans are relatively complex beings, it would be the equivalent of trying understand the whole of my being from just a single cell. While it is true in a large degree that you could extrapolate my DNA and get a decent view of my person, you would miss all the memories, all the experiences, the scars, and the resulting personality that has emerged from all those interactions; with others as well as with my environment.

You could get a decent portrait, but the image and person are not the same.

By just looking at a single cell of my being, you would miss the bigger picture; and that is an important point in and of itself. In addition, if you just look at me as an individual, you would also miss the fact that I am defined in relationship with others. You really see me as a whole when I am with my partner, my friends, or in any kind of network with other beings. You are seeing me in the totality as a whole, instead of an isolated partial. I wouldn’t be who I am today without all those intra/inter-actions.

Thiem continues with;

Every time an intra-action occurs, there is a resulting degree of agency emerging. As more intra-action and entanglement occurs, the emergent agency becomes more attentive, more aware, more enlivened. This is applicable to all interbeing within our existence. Agency is not a special or rare occurrence, but it is rather the basic emergent function of ALL EXISTENCE. That is right, awareness seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

Agency is just as much a physical phenomenon as it is a mental one. The two are the same thing.”

While I myself tend to communicate more plainly, I have expressed this thought in a dozen different ways. “The world is filled with persons” can be simply restated matter itself is agential. The Cosmos as a whole, from the smallest scales to the largest, can be said to have some measure of agency. While I do think there are limits to nature and scope of that agency, it would still seem to be a basic characteristic of existence.

Consider for a moment the nature of the atom itself, as one of the many parts of the cosmic whole. Even taken alone, there is a basic agency to the atom. It seeks out a “balance”, combining itself in numerous forms in order to achieve that. That basic drive to balance out internal charges (positive protons and negative electrons) denotes a basic form of agency. No, it is not the kind of agency found in larger and more complex forms, but an arguable simple agency all the same.

Throughout the history of the known universe, we see this basic agency. Smaller forms coalesce into more complex and diverse forms, and from that eventually comes the basics of life as we know it. We as humans are the result of countless generations of constructive agencies.

This is not to say that this is a linear progression of simpler to more complex, but like biological evolution itself, it is a process of starts and stops. Entropy resists the larger and more complex forms, which then breakdown and rearrange before becoming something new.

As such, as Thiem points out, our reality is a process in motion. Not a linear track, but a complex of becoming…

Now, I want to move this discussion from the most broad to talk about a few specific points for a moment. I have said many times that I am an animist first, but also consider myself to be a polytheist by proxy. This means simply that there is plenty of room in my cosmology for those elusive beings we tend to refer to as gods.

I have struggled for a long time to clearly articulate how I view the gods. I have tried to describe them in the past as collective beings, as cumulative ancestors, and as the “spirit of a group”. Thiem has done a service by putting into words what I could not;

Gods are not separate disembodied ideals, but are instead the emergent agencies from the vast networks of ancient entanglements within which we are embedded. Gods arise not as archetypes, but as the long lived intellects of ecosystems and bioregions. As a bioregion, or any massive networked system for that matter, begins to experience multi emergent synergistic qualities that are unique to its paradigm, the agency of that system becomes more capable of awareness and attention. It develops its own paradigmatic memory and it seeks its own teleodynamic harmony.”

Gods can be all the things I just mentioned, and have tried to articulate in the the past. As emergent agencies, they can be the collective agency of a tribe, or a city. They can be collective agency of an entire region or ecosystems, a co-creation of human as well as natural persons. We as humans can well be part of those emergences, as we tell our stories of the gods, and so add to the network that is the agency of the very same beings.

In the nature of synergy, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. We may see the spirits in individual trees, but the god is in the forest.

Puts a whole new spin on the old cliché of “seeing the forest through the trees.”

(One of my photos.)

As I have already said, my animism sees the world as full of persons, of agents. But most common discussions of animism revolve around the idea of spirits, or not necessarily corporeal persons. As such, any animism must make space for these kind of beings, and Thiem here also articulates this idea well;

Spirits are the liminal agencies of the rocks, the trees, the rivers and all the other functionaries of the more than human world. They are not themselves astral or ethereal, but are physically present in the waking dream of the land. They are nature’s diffractive agencies, emerging out of the entangled relationships of various enlivened constructs.”

There is really not a lot I can add to this. This means that every rock, every tree, and every rivers may well be agencies in their own right. Through the networked intra/interactions of all of the parts, a new whole emerges. This is especially true of natural ecosystems, which often work in cooperation, as well as sometimes in competition. In addition, Thiem’s article also touches on the ancestors as well;

The ancestors are the culminating influences of the past embedded onto the present, all their gravitational waves pushing us forward into the expanse of the universe. The ancestors are not ghosts that pop up like some spooky ethereal being, but are the past actions of our ancestors imprinted upon the informational matrix of our reality which produces an emergent agency capable of communicating with the living, forever affecting and inspiring our future.”

This gets at the heart of how I have tried to articulate how I understand the ancestors. They are no longer embodied, but they are still around, embedded as they are in the intangible. They are, as Thiem put it, “imprinted upon the informational matrix of our reality.” This is a good way to conceive of the disembodied generally. Thiem goes on to add;

…Because of this, the ancestors were not an aspect of dead beings that somehow haunted us in the present, but rather to be an ancestor was to be alive as a different state of being. And this state of being was a kind of imprinting or embedding into the eco-sociological matrix of their places. So when you died you literally became the land, the flora and fauna etc. Your stories inhabited the land and were still very much a part of what made it what it was.”

In short, we are more than just our bodies. We are our stories, our relationships, our very real and formed relationships with the land, the water, and the sky. We are part of the air that we breath, and the water that we drink, so too they are part of us. The minerals from the earth compose our bones, and the fruits and flesh of plants and animals form our tissues. Even when we die, and those tangibles die away, our stories and our memories live on. This is how I understand the ancestors. But they are not just mere memories either, but agencies as well. People, in a different form.

As Thiem points out, the land too can sometimes also be counted as a ancestor. That my story is part of the land I call home. This makes me wonder a great deal. You see, I am a native of Michigan, and this is a curious land indeed. I was born here, and this land has been part of me since the very beginning.

I will have to look into this line of thought a little deeper, but I am sure the Native Americans of this region knew this well. On three sides of this state, we are bounded by the largest freshwater lakes in North America. Nearly one-fifth of the worlds freshwater resides at the edges of my state. This is something I will have to consider more, perhaps in a future post.

There is some much to Thiem’s article, and for the sake of brevity I am not going to explore anymore here. As such, I give the last words to Thiem himself.

I call on these mythic beings because I am seeking to commune with the reality of our interbeing. I call on my ancestors because I must become aware of how deeply we are affected by them, even though they have changed form. In many ways their death hasn’t stopped their meddling in our world, to the point where one must wonder if they ever really died at all. Their wisdom and stories are embedded into the fabric of our reality and this has vast implications. I call upon the Gods because I know that my human agency isn’t enough to understand the desires of the land…”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

Interanimism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolic_anthropology


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 1

We are moving into the time of year where I tend to get really reflective and meditative. It is my big writing time for the year, where I tend to spend most of my time on longer projects. There is certainly a novel or two rolling around in my head, and at least one non-fiction work.

It has yet to be seen if I will actually have the time to work on all three projects (or any that have yet to make themselves known.) I might be able to work on one, having to have a day job and all. If anyone wants to give me a bunch of money or offer me a residency in some far off place (preferably in Scandinavia), now would be the time. Anyone?

Oh, the sounds of silence.

Anywho, enough of that. This certainty has been a hell of a year. There is just so much I could talk about here, I am going to have to be a little selective. As this is primarily a blog for spiritual things (as well as other things), I guess it makes the most sense that I should start with the changes in my spiritual path over this year.

There have been a lot of changes in that regards to be sure. I have been reading on a lot of different topics, and experimenting with new ideas to see what works, and what doesn’t. Some new thoughts have taken root, and I have moved beyond some old ones. A lot of generalities, yes I know.

Well, I guess it is fair to say I have been in “questioning” mode throughout most of this year. There was a time or two I dropped into spiritual crisis over the course of this year. Sometimes the questions without answers become far too heavy to carry after a point. There has been a fair bit of doubt and uncertainty, and through the great ups and downs of this year, more than a share of depression and anxiety.

I have felt lost at times. When I asked myself what path am I on, I don’t know really how to answer that anymore. There is nothing that really feels like it “fits”. Skins I have either outgrown, or were never mine to begin with. In the most general sense, I consider myself an animist. The world is full of people, most of which are non-human. Since I have written quite a bit about that, so I don’t want to belabor that point.

It’s true that my ancestors have always been a real core of my practice. The dead are always with us, in some way or another. On my less “spiritual” days, I know they are still in my DNA, in my blood and bone. Even when I doubt everything else, I know that; on a purely physical level they are with me. That is one corner stone of certainty I can grasp onto when I wonder if all this is just in my head.

That has been a big bit of this year. I think it is normal that we all have doubts, especially in matters such as spirituality. I mean, we can no longer touch the dead, no longer feel them physically in our lives. Sometimes I think I hear them, and other beings too. Yet, some days I have to stretch just to reach… anything. It makes me wonder if it is all in my head? I have felt that a lot this year; looking over that edge and wonder if I should fall off?

I think I am partially convinced that line of thought is wrong. How can this be all in my head if I can look out the door and see the Bird People, and the Tree People; if I can run down the forest trails with the Deer People? That is real, at least as real as these things get. I have been down the road of “what is reality”, and I don’t want to go there again. If this what is “real” is all some kind of hologram, I don’t want to know. Let me think that where I find myself is real, and let me keep my feet on the ground. If this is all some kind of “brain in a jar” Matrix shit, I don’t want to know.

So there are some certainties to be sure, but there are days when the doubts get heavy. If the ancestors, spirits, gods (whatever) I hear some days; if that is all in my head I have some serious problems. That is the other reason I think I am scared to contemplate that possibility. If this is all in my head, I have some real serious problems… That idea terrifies me. I hate having to look at my sanity, and wonder if I am all there?

Other days, fuck it. We are all crazy here.

Perhaps that really gets at the marrow on my year. It has been a lot of that. I also have been reading a lot of my old posts on this blog. Some of them are still relevant, others feel like some long lost skin. I do not see myself in those posts anymore. I have outgrown them, and left them far behind.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. It is kind of like a journal of my path as an individual. If you are all keeping up, you might have notice things have been shifting. Old ideas have not been entertained in a while, and new ones are cropping up all the time. Some might call that growth. Me, I don’t know. Some days it just feels like I am running in place.

Which kind of circles back to the idea of the supposed “path I walk.” I don’t know what to call it anymore. It’s animistic sure, and there is some shamanism-ish in there too. Ancestor work still makes up the core, with a close periphery of work with other people, primarily of the “natural” variety. Trees, rocks, wolves; you know, things we can point to in the “real” world. I know, for a fact, that these things are beyond myself.

I also know for a fact that my ancestors are dead, as are the ancestors of those Trees and Wolves. Is it too much a stretch to thing that some part of what we are lives on after death? Maybe not our bodies, but something? That is where I get into the fuzziness that sometimes makes me question my sanity.

And then there are the gods. Oh boy, that is a big one. I have struggled with this one a lot over the last few years, because I couldn’t quite figure out how to conceive of the gods in a way I could relate to and work with. Some have claimed this is just the nature of the gods. They are unknowable and mysterious and all that.

It has been a long process (not just this year), wading through all this. My spiritual journey started with a Christian church; a Southern Baptist one. I got plenty of the “God’s will is mysterious” and that he is omnipotent, and omniscient and immortal and and and… ad nauseum.

But over the years, and especially this past year. I have stripped away much of that. To me, I think that divinity is more of a “job” or a role rather than an intrinsic state of being. The best word I have found for the gods so far is stewards, and a lot of this has come over the past year or so from my studies in Finnish folklore and belief. I have written a fair bit about that, so once again I’m not going to harp on that to much.

Still, a big part of that was the ideas of haltias in Finnish folklore. The idea of a being that was a steward over a group, a clan, a tribe, a species; what have you. A haltia can be a elder ancestor, and/or a representative; and is generally concerned with the wellbeing of “theirs”; however they may be grouped. I groked with that, I understood that.

Which lead to the other parts starting to fall away. The gods, as stewards, likely don’t know everything (some try for sure), are not all powerful, and are limited in a very real sense. They are also not likely immortal in any sense. The stories are filled with “average” people becoming gods, and gods being stripped of their power. There are also stories of dead gods, forgotten gods, and all shreds of nuance around that.

Personally, a world full of numerous “limited” gods makes more sense to me than one “Almighty” something or other.

This all leads me to think that godhood is a role, a position of responsibility. Could you imagine the responsibility on the shoulders of a being that is a steward of humanity? Such a role would almost imply you had to take the long view of things. It also implies that the life, or death, of one particular individual might not be important as the “grand scheme” of things. It would be much more about the welfare of the “whole” rather than the “parts.”

Does this all make sense? Or am I just rambling?

Still, it makes me think that maybe godhood is something that is a potential in all of us. Maybe someday, we will all be stewards of that type. Divinity might well be something that is “earned” or “granted”, and just as easily be taken away.

Or I could be way off the mark. It’s fun to think about all the same.

I want to leave this topic for a bit, and move onto another one. As I said, my “path” has been interesting so far. I have no real titles to claim, and no real “tradition” that I am an adherent to. There has really been no initiations, no big ceremonies. In many ways it has just been me stumbling my way through. Sounds a lot like life in general.

I am not trying to diminish the contributions of countless numbers of people though. I have had many mentors, guides, teachers, friends, collaborators; human and non-human both. Some of them I truly respect an count among my friends and allies, and they have helped me grow a lot as a person and on my spiritual path. Yet, at the end of the day, I am mostly self taught. One situation, one idea at a time, I have had to figure out (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn’t. In some wide sense, some of what I have learned has been hard earned. It has come with deep financial, mental, physical and emotional costs.

I have taken a great bit of inspiration and learning from my ancestors. There are reasons I study things like crafts, archaeology and anthropology. Not only do I get enjoyment out of doing so, in some ways I am bringing that past learning into myself. In no small way, I am taking old material and reforging it.

Because, at the end of the day we have to face the facts of the present. We no longer live in the times of our ancestors. Their teachings and traditions were created and shaped to deal with the challenge of THEIR times, not ours. The world has moved on. Yet, I find some of those old tools still work, even if a little bit differently than originally meant to.

The fact is, the past is history. Without some cataclysmic event, we have to deal with the realities of the here and now, and also for the future. That is what I feel I am doing. I am taking the threads left by my ancestors; the fragments of long decayed tapestries. I am taking those threads, and rebuilding something for the present. I am re-weaving, rebuilding, and reshaping all these ideas into tool for our own time.

As well as onward into the future.


Walking with the Ancestors Part 5-B

The boy sat by the edge of the river, gently poking at the small fish near the shore with a stick. His mother was nearby, keeping a watchful eye on him. That did not concern the boy at all, because his attention was elsewhere. He watched the young woman as she talked among the fishers.

She was tall, and wore an old-tattered black wolf pelt over her right shoulder. The boy did not know what exactly they were talking about, but she fascinated him. There was something about her that drew the attention of others.

As a boy of only four, he didn’t really understand why she drew his attention, and he certainly did not have the vocabulary to put his questions in the worlds, so he just watched and tried his best to understand.

He watched the woman turn away from the fishers, and make her way up the river bank towards where the boy was sitting. He felt very excited as she drew closer, and started to squirm in anticipation. He rose to his feet to meet her, and she smiled at him and pat him on the head.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” The wolf woman smiled down at him. He couldn’t help but return the smile in turn.

“To see you.” The boy said, with a huge smile on his face, and he reached his arms up towards her. The wolf woman turned towards the boy’s mother, and she nodded her approval.

The young woman swept the boy up into her arms, and spun him around. He laughed the whole time, and he imagined he was flying just like the Bird People.

When she finally set him back down, he was struggling to catch his breath. His laughter had taken all the wind from his lungs.

The wolf woman continued to smile down at him, and he looked back up at her.

“Can I be a hunter too?” The boy asked. The wolf woman flashed a smile at him, but as she looked down at the boy her smile grew cold.

While the boy could not see it, one of the Shadow people had appeared by her side.

“His ancestors are already calling him home. He will leave this world come the next winter.” The Shadow said.

The wolf woman continued the conversation in her mind.

“No! You cannot take him. We have lost too many of the young already.” The wolf woman said.

“I wish I could help you, but this has already been decided. There is much more he can do with ancestors of your people. There is little I can do to change that.” The Shadow said.

“But he is so young.” The woman protested.

“That cannot be helped. For what little comfort I can offer, know that he will be a great man in another world.” The Shadow said, and then turned and vanished.

“Why are you sad?” The boy asked. The woman panicked for a moment, and then reached up to touch her check. Her hand was wet when she pulled it away.

“I am not sad! I am happy that you are so beautiful in the sun!” The woman said. She had lied, and she knew it.

The boy didn’t know it though, and he beamed with pride.

“Momma, I am bu..tiuful.” The boy struggled to say the long word. Both of the older women laughed.

“Would you like to hear a story, little one?” The wolf woman said. She had learned many stories over the years, as many as her father could teach her.

She had learned more from the People.

“Yes!” The little boy beamed, as he sat down by the river, and the woman sat next to him.

“Do you know where the fish come from?” The woman said. She chuckled as the boy’s eyebrows wrinkled as he tried to figure it out.

“From the water!” The boy exclaimed,

“Yes, but where do the waters come from?” The woman said. She hoped he would get this one too.

“Ummm. From the ground?” The boy said. She knew that some of it did, but it wasn’t the answer she wanted.

“Where does the rain come from?” The woman asked. The boy caught on immediately.

“From the sky!” The boy continued to beam. The woman thought he was a smart little boy. She was pained by the sadness in her heart, knowing that this boy would not grow to ask all the questions that filled his young mind.

At least, not in this world.

“That is right, the water comes from the sky. In days long past, the world was hot and not a good place to live for anyone except the Fire People.

As others wanted to live here too, they had to find a way to cool the world. That is why the Water People came down from the sky. They came in great numbers, and fell like sheets on the hot world. This made the Fire People a little unhappy, and so they went underground to escape the rain.

But the world was cooled all the same, and the air and the earth formed up as the Water People came down upon the world. So many of the Water People came to the world that they covered most of it. The came down from the mountains in mighty rivers, and made their way all the way to the Great Waters.” The woman said.

“Fish! Look a fish!” The boy said, having turned his attention to the river. The woman smiled.

“That’s right. The Water People loved the Fish People, and they decided to give them a home in all the waters. That is why there are fish in the water.” The woman said.

Commentary;

This is another short one, as I really wasn’t sure where to go with this one. It is another version of the origin story that I first created at the beginning of this series. More than that though, it is also a story of otherworldly things, and the concept of Death, here represented by some formless Shadow person. In truth in my animistic worldview death can be a pretty complicated thing. I have touched upon this a little in my piece here.

In addition, it is also a continuation of my last story. The wolf woman is the young girl in the last story, and she now wears the tattered Old Wolf fur. She is still young in this story, but has already gained a reputation among her people. In no small way, she is the shamaness in this tale, the story-teller. I felt it was fitting since I drew upon the Mal’ta-Buryet Culture for my last story, and since that is the rightful place of the Mal’ta boy, I felt it was fitting to continue that arc.

All that being said, I think I will take this story in a little bit of a different direction as we move on in this series. One thing I don’t want it to become is just a rehash of the same kind of story line over and over again. Though, I am not sure quite how I will do that just yet.

Thanks for reading!


Walking with the Spirits Part 2-B

“In time, the old ways would be sundered between Man and Wolf. It changed long ago, when Man left the forests for the fields. Man changed his relationship with the land and all the people. He put down his bow, and picked up his pick and shovel. He took his axe and cut down the ancient trees, and in their place he planted his food and cities.

So it was that my people, the Wolf, went to man and asked him why he no longer hunted, why he no longer ran with us as a brother? Man said to us that our ways were wild, and were no longer welcome. He said we were a danger to his cattle, and his sheep. He chased us away with weapons and death. We looked back upon man with longing, knowing that a deep rift had grown up between us. We knew that the days of our bond were passing, and that the coming days would see us as enemies.” The she-wolf said. The old man had tears in his eyes.

“And that is what came to pass. As man planted fields, and expanded across the world, the Wolf was seen as a threat, and an enemy. The Wolf People were killed wherever man went, and went extinct in many places. Man took the forests, and killed the wolves, and so claimed more and more for himself. No longer could Wolf and Man coexist, as the Wolf was wild, dangerous, and would take things from Man, and so must be killed.” The old man said, anger growing in his voice.

“What happened? Why did Man go back on his promise?” The boy asked. The she-wolf lowered her head, looking sad.

“A deep poison had festered in Man’s spirit. You see, even spirits can get sick and fall ill, even spirits can die. They can be wounded, and get infections as well. Man’s sickness was one of the spirit and of the mind. Man became poisoned by Greed and Pride. So it was that Man said to himself; “I am obviously superior to all creatures, and so it must be that I have dominion over them all. They exist to serve my needs, because I am superior.”

Such an idea poisoned Man’s spirit, and turned him away from all other beings. There were no longer Tree-People, or Wolf-People, but only resources and animals. Man told himself that all these things were for his own use, and that there was no need to give anything back. Why keep good relationships with things that are less than himself?

So over time Man became greedy, and was no longer willing to share with the people around him. He took the forests for his own use, and the land for his own us, and the water too the same. He took the air also for himself, and all the food too. He even took these things from of his own kind. Man hunted Wolf, because he could not stand the idea of having to share prey with Wolf anymore. Man and Wolf were no longer friends, and Wolf was no longer a person. Why share at all?” The she-wolf said, tears in her eyes.

The old man nodded sadly.

“That is what happened here. Man took all of it for his own use. The problem was, it was never enough. No matter how many trees we cut down, no matter how many lakes we polluted, no matter how many wolves we killed, it would never be enough. We did not realize until it was too late that by killing all these things we were really killing ourselves. As the she-wolf said, the spirit can be wounded just like anything else. Every tree we cut down, every wolf we killed, what we were really doing was killing ourselves, one tiny scratch at a time.” The old man said.

The boy now had tears in his eyes.

“Yes, this was once a place of water and trees. But now it is dead and lifeless, because we could never get enough, and could not see those different then us as people too. The tree were people, and the wolves were people. But now that is all gone, just like our spirits. It is all dead now, and soon we will be too. You and me boy are the last humans, and my time grows short.” The old man said.

The boy turned to the wolf.

“You too?” He asked. The she-wolf nodded.

“I am the last of my kind.” She said.

The sun had started to rise on the horizon. The old man and the old she-wolf looked at it with sadness.

“It is fitting we should see our last sunrise together.” The old man said.

“With the rising of the sun, we end things as we began them.” The she-wolf said.

“As friends.” The boy said. Both the old man and the old wolf nodded.

The sun rose, and the old man and the she-wolf withered away as the sunlight flooded the desert.

Commentary;

This is the second part of the story that I first posted here. I have been trying to clean it up a little, and make it read a little better. There might be some parts that are still unclear, because this story originally had a very different context.

It was a dream story originally, and the boy woke up at the end. A lot of that has been edited out for flow reasons, but some of it still lingers. For example, this story has a noted “post apocalyptic” feel to it. The implication is that the world around the old man and the she-wolf is dead, nothing but desert and sand. This was spelled out more in the early versions of this story, but here it has been mostly dropped.

I felt I had to share this one, because the message behind it is a strong one. It speaks of a sundering between humanity and nature, between Man and all other Persons. Over the long ages, we have slowly drove a wedge between ourselves and nature. I have made it pretty clear on this blog that I am at best ambivalent towards capitalism. As an idea and as an economic system, it has a hell of a lot of problems. And because of such ideas, we often talk of things like “natural resources” and even “human resources.” There is a lot of problems with this kind of worldview.

Overall, I felt this was a good story to follow up my discussion on totemism. It has a few aspects I would put in that kind of worldview.

However, now I start looking forward to the next part of this series. From here, we will move on to a general discussion on the development of religion, and from there onto various archaeological sites that give us insight into the nature of religion, and what the ancestors thought about their world.

As always, thanks for reading!


Walking with the Spirits Part 1-B

In ancient times, when humanity was young and many of the People were already old, a great council was called to discuss what to do about the young humans.

The People turned out for the council in great multitudes, for they were diverse in kind and number. Tall and strong were the Oak People, and the Ant People had to be careful under foot. The Salmon people swam up the rivers, and the Wolf People appeared in their packs. It was a sight like none that had been seen before, so great were the multitudes that were in attendance.

Yet, it would have been impossible to talk in such a great host, and so small groups of People broke off so that they could discuss the matter easily. So it was that the land, sky, and water was filled with countless circles of speaking

Upon the land, one such group was headed by one of the White Oak People, who towered above all the others. His silvery bark was old and scaly, and his leaves were green in their full summer bloom. His low rumbling voice was the first to be heard in the speaking circle.

“I have seen the humans, and they are an interesting people. Unlike all that I have seen, they move about on two legs, not four. Nor do they have wings like the Bird People, nor fins like the fish and whales.” The White Oak said.

“Some of my people have said that they were once like us, before their arms grew short and their legs grow long.” Another said, a member of the Ape People.

“Yet they are not like you at all. They are hairless and odd in other ways.” Gray Wolf said.

“At least they don’t eat your kind. They have chased us long across the plains and the woods.” Red Deer said.

“They still kill us, and use our skins to keep warm.” Gray Wolf added with a snarl. Red Deer jumped to alert, as if ready to run. White Oak intervened.

“This is not a place for hunting, nor a place to bring out all our various differences. Is it not true Gray Wolf that you also hunt Red Deer?” White Oak said.

“It is true. But for meat, not for her fur.” Gray Wolf said.

“Yet the humans too hunt Red Deer for meat. And as you have said, they are naked and so must get cold easily.” White Oak said.

“Maybe they should have kept their hair?” Ape said.

“It is not only their nakedness that makes them odd. They have learned from other People who have not taught us their ways.” Gary Wolf said.

It was at that time that two new People joined the circle, and they were very different from those that were already gathered there. Still, all were welcome in the circle to have their say.

White Oak flinched back as one of the Fire People joined the circle, as the people of Wood were not always on friendly terms with Fire.

“What you say is true. We have entered into an alliance with the humans, and we have found it good for both of us. They benefit from our heat and our light, and we are well fed.” Fire said.

White Oak shuddered slightly.

“And what do you have to say about the humans?” White Oak said, directing his attention towards the Stone People that had joined the circle. Several different voices tried to speak all at once, as the rock people came in groups. Several smaller pebbles tried to speak over larger boulders, and the voices made no sense at all to those present.

“One at a time if you please.” White Oak said. All the stone people went silent for a moment, and then one sole boulder spoke.

“Some of our kin have also entered into.. connections with the humans. They have a knack of working with us that we have not seen before.” The Boulder said.

“We have worked with stones for longer than humans.” The Ape countered.

“Yet, it is not quite the same. Their hands are different than yours, as is their… vision. They shape us, and turn us into new forms, for skinning and hunting, and all matter of things.” The Boulder said.

“And this is acceptable to you?” The White Oak said.

“We find it benefits us as well. We are a slow moving people, and the humans take us when they move. It is nice to see our relations in other lands.” The Boulder said.

“But that is not the relation all of us have with them. They kill my kin without any thought, and our dead are left angry and confused. This is hard on our people.” Red Deer said.

“As it is on ours. They kill our mates and our friends, are packs are broken and our families scattered. And to what purpose? Because the humans lack fang, claw or fur?” Gray Wolf said.

“Perhaps you should rethink your relations to the humans? Perhaps you could benefit in the same way that we have?” Fire said.

For a long moment the circle was silent.

“Perhaps it would be well to reach out to the humans? We could form bonds with them just as the Fire People have, and the stone people too?” White Oak said.

“But will they listen? Can they be taught?” Gray Wolf said.

“We have to hope that they can be.” White Oak said.

Commentary;

No story should be taken without a grain a salt. Obviously, I had to take some liberties with this one, not only with time, but with conception as well. Honestly, I struggled with it for several reasons. Edward Tylor proposed animism as a theory of the origin of religion. But we cannot say for sure exactly how religion came into being, partly for a lack of definitive evidence, but partly because it is a complex process which no one theory really grasps entirely. In addition, there may be limits of biology. Over the long course of human evolution, our brains have increased in size and our minds have expanded. There is great a deal of debate concerning the nature of “awakening”, and the question at what point did humans become capable of “conceptualizing” something like religion? Or is it something that we have “always had?” I certainly can’t answer this question, and I am not certain any one really can. It might just be one of those Big Questions, that really never gets answered.

Given my animistic inclination; that is why I finally choose this kind of form for this story. Much of my understanding of the spirits come from working with them as well as my ancestors. I ran with the idea that maybe it was the spirits that first introduced them to humans, and the process of learning began. From my own work, I have been given individual taboos, and methods to interact with the spirits, and what is good to offer them, and so on. Maybe one of the reasons religion came about was that people started getting messages from other People, as a kind of “teaching.”

It is damn near impossible to say for sure.

Thanks for reading!