Tag Archives: spirituality

Spirits of the Forest

“In ancient times, the land lay covered lay covered in forests. Where, from ages long past, dwelt the spirits of the gods. Back then, man and beast lived in harmony. But as time went by, most of the great forests were destroyed…” — Princess Mononoke

Some have wondered where they Great Lakes came from… Long ago, there were Great Spirits of ice and snow. They were so old, and so powerful, that their very bodies lay upon the surface of the land. There was no land in those days, only the endless bodies of the Ice People.

Over long spans of time, the land slowly warmed. The Ice People hated the warmth, and started to migrate towards the north. But in anger of being displaced, they dug up the land, digging great furoughs in the land. But they stayed too long, and the warmth got to them. The Ice People that remained melted away, and the water from their bodies and tears filled the Great Lakes.

Okay, so that is my best attempt at some kind of glacier-inspired folklore for my homelands of Michigan. It’s a little bit science and a little bit animism, and tries to retell the history of how the Great Lakes came to be. The short answer, they were dug out by glaciers. Obviously.

In my last post, I made brief allusions to the fact that in Finnish folklore the spirits of the dead and the spirits of the land are deeply intertwined. This makes sense, from both a practical as well as a spiritual perspective. In the words of Mufasa, when we die our bodies become the grass. The vast majority of humans, animals, plants, and every other being on this planet return to the Earth when we die. We become part of the land, whether we are buried or burned.

The spirits and inhabitants of the land are often referred to as Mann haltija literally land spirits. The land itself and the spirits of the land are the oldest beings, and have been here long before humanity first crawled out of the evolutionary past.. The plants and animals have millions of generations of dead. In Finnish folklore, these spirits are often the protectors of the land. The dead are protectors of the living, and the forests were here before the people. In this way, ancestors, the dead, and the haltija in general is deeply connected to the land, and the Earth.

For example, we can still find the fossil remains of the first forms of life that appeared on Earth billions of years ago. The memory of the Earth is deep, and those dead are still remembered by the land beneath our feet. According to the folklore, those dead spirits can also watch over their living descendants, and the species that came from them. The First Oak, would be the haltija that watched over and guarded its kin, and helped to maintain the cycles of life and death for the species.

That is why the spirits of the dead and the land are deeply intertwined. My homeland of Michigan has a deep forested history, and even today the state is over 50% forests. This is interesting to consider when you figure that the Native Americans have been here for generations, and that the Forests were here long before them. And the lakes and waters before that, and the glaciers before that. That all that ecological history, is still with us. Still below our feet. Still part of Michigan’s animistic and physical being.

Spirits of dead wolves still watch over their living kin, along with spirits of birds, and trees and forests. These are the spirits of the forest, and of the land. The mann haltijas, and also the Spirits of the Forest.

The Spirits of the Forest

The metsän väki serve as guides and mentors to us all. Their roots go deep into the ground, to the waters of the dead, drinking of the wisdom and memory of the Earth and our ancestors. Their trunks exist upon the land, in our own world of humans, animals, and plants. Their branches stretch towards the heavens, towards the stars, the spirits, and the heavens.

In Finnish, the metsän väki are the people of the forest, the spirits of the place, and also the inherent ‘power’ of the place. The spirits, and the Spirit, of the Forest. They are the living beings of the forest; all the different species of trees, of animals, plants, fungus, bacteria, and all the others. They are also the ecology of the forest, the complex system that involves not just the biology, but also the air, water, and earth of the physical landform. The metsän väki are the cycles of matter and energy that maintain and regulate the entire system. From the acorn to the rotting trunk, these are the metsän väki.

Finland, like my own country of Michigan, is also a heavily forested land. It is no surprise at all that the forest played heavily into their folklore and their spiritual beliefs. However, in my own home, there is a deeply disturbing past when it comes to the forests. Historically, after the arrival of Europeans, Michigan was basically the source of lumber for a growing America.

The vast majority of our old growth trees were logged and taken away in the 18th and 19th centuries. There was a great podcast series by Michigan Radio, if you care to listen that covers a lot of this history. Still, that history weighs on my mind. Those trees and habits were displaced, and in no small way our forests have not been the same since. Those old forests would have been something to see!

Yet, there is a deeper, more animistic connection here too. In the same way that the destruction of habitats can destabilize ecosystems, a similar idea is present in the Finnish concept of väki. Displaced spirits can become angry, or ‘insane’ if they are not treated properly. The dead can become enraged, just as in Princess Mononoke. They can make people sick, or become ill themselves. There is a real ecological and spiritual connection between the health of the metsän väki, and the physical health of the forest.

If you want to read more about my experience with forests spirits, you could start here.

Not only does that leave room for further investigation, but it also makes me deeply uncomfortable. Again, perhaps Jigo in Princess Mononoke said it best;

Hiisi

In goes another layer deeper as well, the connection between the dead, the living, and the land. In Finnish folk beliefs, there is also the concept of the hiisi. These were also spirits, or ghosts, that could help (or hinder) the living. Spirits of the dead were often honored in forest groves, natural land formations, and stones and rocks.

A forest where the spirit of the dead was honor was called a Hiisi forest, a spirit forest. A place where the spirits and ancestors dwell. By sacred trees, in sacred groves, or upon stone altars Finnish people would leave offerings, sacrifices, and honors for the dead. I’ve talked more about what that looks like here Reflections on the FFA. 

However, as Christianity swept into Finland, hiisi and the concepts around it actually became a profane idea. Hiisi were no longer spirits or ancestors, but devils and evil demons. As a result, it’s fallen from use; in the same way that a lot of old sacred sites were cut down, or had churches built over them. Still, I think the spirits still linger in those places, just as they still linger in the forests of Michigan.

Which is a great place to stop for the moment. There is a lot more that could be said, but I will save that for future posts. As always;

Thanks for reading!

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2017 In Review and Time for Hiatus

Hello there folks!

2017 has been a pretty insane year, on all kinds of levels. I have been really busy, but it often feels like I am not getting anywhere. Plus the political circus has been a constant source of stress and anxiety for me and my family. I am not going to lie to you, it has been a pretty rough year.

I also have a lot to do in the near future, so with this post this blog is on indefinate hiatus. It will probably be a few months at least. Just as a short list, these are the things I will be working on in the new year (and also why I can’t juggle this blog right now.)

  1. I will be working a new novel towards publication. I am hoping to start up a Gofundme or something in the new year to help cover some of the costs. I want to get cover art done, but also some character and setting art. I really want to round out the world I have created, but that has costs associated with it. I hope some of my readers here might be willing to contribute to that campaign.
  2. I will be writing a full manuscript on animism, using many of my posts here as the raw material. I have been writing on animism and related topics for 6 years now, and there is plenty of material I have compiled. Plus there is a lot of new stuff I am working on, so I will need time to compile and create new material.
  3. I will still be posted over at Pagan Bloggers in case you miss me that much
  4. I will also be cross-posting material from here to Pagan Bloggers, and vis versa. There will be a swapping of material to help fill the gaps while I am away.

There is a lot of blogs I want to work on here too, as I continue to develop my own work. I want to add to my “Shaping a Living World” project, as there is a more I want to write about there. I also want to continue to work on my “Walking with the Ancestors/Spirits” projects, as those unexpectedly moved to the back burner over the last year. I want to come back to those. There is a lot more ground to cover there.

With all that in mind, let’s see how what I did manage to get done this year. I have been doing classwork in shamanism with a mentor, and that is a 2 year commitment. That said, a lot of great material has come out of that. It has led to shifts in my cosmology, which I talked about here.

The shifts in cosmology have led me to explore questions on ethics,  and our relationships with our ancestors, and the natural world

It also culminated in a great experience with a Forest Spirit.

I’ve done a lot of work here too, in the process of my ever changing and deepening understanding of animism. My animism asks me to be engaged in the world, and question how and why I relate to other beings. It asks me to search for meaning, and build connections. It asks me about how I relate to the world, and my place in it.

It asks me about to wonder if Nations are the best way to run a planet facing global problems such as rising inequality and ecological crises.

Animism makes me look at the world and question the effects of our relationships to the environment.

But it also lets me explore how I relate to myself.

Afterall, animism is a worldview, and affects how I look at the world and my place in it. Animism makes me wonder about the nature of the “soul” and the relationships of animism and science.

I have explored some basic theoretical lenses in which to view animism as well as science, and have found the two to be very complimentary.

There has been a lot of new material I have been exposed to as well, such as Interanimism and Tracking as a way of knowing. It has opened me up to all kinds of new thinking on animism, and it has been great to ponder. Plus it has helped me to understand that animism is a worldview as well as a way of knowing the world. Just like science is a system of knowing, so too is animism.

By far my biggest projects this year has been my Shaping a Living World project. It has taken up a great deal of my time and energy, and alas has been met with mixed reviews. As a whole, it draws inspiration from the UN Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Project Drawdown.

I think that a lot got lost in translation with that project. Several readers got caught up in the fact that it was based on UN ideology, which is apparently very “globalist” and “bad” somehow. I will be the first to admit that the UN is far from perfect, but I think what gets ignored is the fact that environmental and humanitarian issues are global issues.

These are things that need to be addressed at all level, local, national, and global. I think the UN has set out a good set of goals to address that; in both the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the Paris Climate Accords (which the US has announced it planned to pull out of, much to my dismay.) Over 190 countries signed on to the SDG’s and the Climate Accords, and that gives me hope. The fact is that to address the problems that face us, we need everyone to do their part. Whether that is individuals, cities, private entities, nations, or entities like the UN; we need everybody. I don’t see any way around that, and thus we need practical and workable solutions. The UN has set out a decent roadmap, as have the Nordic countries, and Project Drawdown is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen to fight climate change. We need more ideas like that.

I’m always open to other alternatives.

At the widest possible scale, that series is about how my animism relates to the world. Animism is the idea that the world is full of persons (some of which are not human) and that life is lived in relation to others.

As such, my animism intersects strongly with humanitarian as well as environmental rights. It says that people matter, that humans matter, that environments matter, that life matters, and that this spinning blue ball in space is our home and it all MATTERS.

I have come to the conclusion that an animistic worldview (however you frame that) has the power to change the world, and it is important that we consider that. Our current worldview could certainly use a change.

My animism asks me to do what I can for humanitarian issues, whether that is fighting poverty, combating hunger, or fighting bigotry and racismThese are all important components of my animism, as well as my personal code of values and morality. I think it is an insult to our dignity and common humanity that we fail to do more on these issues.

I believe in a world where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (thanks Spock), and that it is a tragedy that people go without decent healthcare (Looking at you United States), and a quality education. More than this, we need to be doing better in the realm of civil rights, especially in regards to gender equality for women as well as LGBT+ people.

On top of being humanistic, my animism comes with a concern for all life on this planet. It informs my environmentalism and my passion for conservation. The lives of non-human persons (plants, animals… ect) matter too, and humans are hardly the only species on this planet. We depend on healthy ecosystems for our very survival, and so we must do everything we can to create a sustainable and environmental world. That means increasing our investments and development of renewable energy, and creating sustainable cities that have less of an impact on the environment. There will certainly be a lot more to write about this in the new year.

These are all things we can do, and there is certainly much more work to be done. It starts with us as individuals, but individual actions alone are not enough. We will need every level of society involved, and with that I do think it is possible to see a better world. It may even be possible to see it in my lifetime.

I will return when I have gotten some of my projects off the table. Until then, you all behave yourselves alright?

Thanks for reading.


Spiritual Engineering

Hello again folks!

Now that things have calmed down just a little bit, I have had the time to sit down and knock out another post. As far as updates are concerned, we are about a month away from opening the shop back up, and I am finishing up proofing on the fifth book of the Elder Blood Saga. It really has been a hell of a ride, and I am sad to see that series come to an end. But all things come to an end, so now I move on to other projects.

Just what are we talking about today? You might have noticed the title of this post is “Spiritual Engineering.” You are probably wondering what exactly I am getting at?

Naturally, I will be happy to explain. But first, some context. As some of may know, I have recently started the coursework for two year shamanic intensive. It has been rather fantastic so far! I am still in the introductory work, and there is already so much to think and write about! Of course, that is good news for you, my readers, as you get to come along for the ride.

In the intensive, I recently went through a course in which we talked a great deal about neurology, and our own set of spiritual “wiring” in the context of shamanism. What we are really going to be talking about is energy work, and the “hardware and software” we use to make that work.

However, first I want to be clear about how I am using terms. When I refer to energy work, I restrict that usage to the “self”. You have probably heard the adage that “everything is energy”, and I certainly don’t disagree with that. However, I would add that in an animistic context, every is not just energy. Once you move into the world external to yourself, you are no longer dealing with just energy. You are dealing with persons; each of which has their own will, awareness and most importantly, boundaries. I learned this the hard way. I’ll tell you that story sometime, as it has taken me a while to make sense of that.

While it may be true that trees and rocks are made up of energy, they are more than JUST energy. The point being, once you move beyond the self, we are talking more about “spiritual social work” than mere “energy work.” Beyond the self, in an animistic context, you are now interacting with the social world of other-than-human persons. I hope the distinction makes sense.

So, for this post we are only talking about individual energy work. The work you do with your own personal spirit. Now, I have a pretty complicated view of the spirit. That is because the singular individual “self” we conceive is anything but singular. We are made up of countless number of individual cells, all of which form to together to make this collective individual we refer to as “me.”

In an animistic context, all of those cells have their own spirits; but in the grand scheme of things the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Still, the point is that all of these cells exist in great vast network. It is those connections and networks that make all of systems work together, and from the connections in our brain that allow us to conceive of ourselves in the singular.

In addition, it is my working theory that the spirit is in many ways analogous to our physical body. Just like neurons in the brain, all those little connections and networks are part of our spirit, and constitute our “spiritual wiring.” You with me so far?

Now, you get at least two camps when you talk about spiritual wiring, especially in regards to shamanism.

On the one side, you get what I might call the hard-wired camp. These are the people that claim that shamanism is only for those with a certain “energetic circuitry”. Basically, if you don’t have the right make up, you can’t be a shaman.

On the other side, there are those that think it is more of a universal thing. That in short, any one can be a shaman. If the calling is there, and the spirits have come forward, the “wiring” is a work in progress. It might be worked and reworked over and over again over the process.

Which is where the spiritual engineering comes in. For me it is certainly not an “either/or” type of thing. We are pretty adaptable as organisms, and even our brains have a noted plasticity in their connections. However, I also take more of a moderate view. Some parts of our “wiring” might be hard-wired, and it places limits on what we can do and what we can’t do. Yet, it can be rearranged and adapted as well. Weak circuits can be bypassed, and new augmentations can be added. They can also be removed and stripped out too. That is spiritual engineering. Tailoring the “wiring” for the job at hand.

Are there limits, sure. Some might even be built into my “core structure”, or whatever you would like to call my predetermined wiring. But that doesn’t stop me from doing a redesign either. I little rewiring here, a little bypass there. I plug this plasma conduit into that warp core, and bam! Ready to go!

(From Google images. I think it makes the point.)

Let me use shielding as an example. I am just going to assume you all know what I am talking about. Shielding is one of those things I really enjoy to play with, because it is only limited by your imagination. I am sure none of my regular readers would be surprised if I said I have played with sci-fi inspired shielding, fantasy shielding, and pretty much anything else I have been able to imagine.

For example, say I want to wade into some kind of spiritual nightmare. Maybe I have to deal with a spiritual nasty at the boss level. As such, I want to engineer a shield that can hold up to some punishment. So I take a good hard look at my spiritual wiring, and realize it can’t handle what I need to do. I’d be pretty SOL if I couldn’t do some adaptive redesign.

So I build myself an armor suit straight out of Mass Effect, all N7 and such. But I find that one of my spiritual circuits just can’t handle the load I want to run through it. It would be the analogy of running 100 volts through a 12 volt wire. Obviously, if I don’t do something about that, my circuitry is going to fry.

I also find out that this given circuit is one of my “hard-wired” bits. It is required for something else to work, so I can’t really cut it out and replace it. It’s required equipment. I CAN however bypass it. So I install a bypass that can carry the spiritual current I need, and never have to worry about burning the little 12 volt out.

That way I can run the power I need to, and be good to go in the ass-kickery department.

However, just like real life engineering, I wouldn’t recommend just jumping into this kind of thing. The example above is for illustration purposes only. Just like I wouldn’t recommend Joe-Unskilled from the street take over Scotty’s position on the Enterprise, I wouldn’t advise messing with your wiring without the expertise to do so. Or at least without “adult” supervision.

Realize, that this kind of energy work has taken me many years of training and study to even guess at. Just like real world engineering, it takes expertise, experience and study to become proficient at it.

As such, the “don’t try this at home” caveat applies.

As always, thanks for reading!


Walking with the Ancestors Part 1-A

In the beginning… The Narrative from Science

As an animist and material being, the story of my ancestors starts at the beginning of our universe nearly 14 billion years ago. The current leading theory is called the Big Bang, in which our universe expanded from a singularity back at the beginning of time. Materialistically, this is when the first building blocks of our entire existence came into being. Over time, sub atomic particles condensed into atoms, molecules, and in time stars, planets and galaxies.

Animistically, I also have to wonder if this is when the first spirits/people started to work in the universe. From a scientific perspective, matter is not a life form. It takes a certain level of complexity before we reach the point that biology recognize something as a life form. And no, the material present at that early time could not be scientifically defined as living. Still, this does not deny that sub-atomic and atom particles do some very interesting things. Two hydrogen and an oxygen gets you water, which is essential for all life forms we know of.

I have debated with my self (and others) for some time if those earliest particles could be a really simple form of life. Once, in one of my classes, my teacher said that atoms have a drive to make themselves “happy”, by either filling or emptying their outermost electron shells. They deliberately seek out other atoms to make bonds with, and therefore make themselves “happy.”

It is not a far jump from making bonds, to forming relationships. Relationships and connections are the one of the foundations of animism. Even in these early particles, we can see the create connections and bonds. And by the time you get to something more complex, like ourselves, those bonds and connections have become very interesting indeed.

It is amazing to think about that some of those particles from the beginning of time may well be in my body right now. They have moved through stars and galaxies and time to end up somewhere in my body at the here and now. I cannot express the sense of joy and awe that that thought fills me with. To know that I am spiritually and materially a descendant of the beginning of times. It is humbling to think about, and is the first step on a long ancestral journey.

To me, that point of beginning represent something akin to a seed, from which the whole of our known universe grew. I have always enjoyed the metaphor of trees, the Tree of Life, the World Tree of Nordic myth, the shaman’s tree, all of them in some form. Well, at the point of the Big Bang we see that seed taking root, from which would expand and grow the whole sum of our universe.

Fast forward a few billion years, and you see another outgrowth from this seed in the form of the star we call Sol, our sun. It came into being, a descendant of other stars, and from it came the little world we call Earth. And on this little world, after another billion or so years worth of formation, fire and oceans, came into existence a life form from which we all are descended.

The entire tree of life, every plant, animal or other creature that has every lived or is currently living can trace it descent from that first little being (or group of beings). That too is rather humbling and awe inspiring. To know the very basics of what I am today started all those billions ago. To know I can trace my spiritual and literal ancestry back to that little creature, and back to the beginning of the universe, that fills me with a wonder that is hard to put into words.

This means that the fires of our young world, Sol, and all the stars of the universe back to the beginning of time might be counted among my ancestors. The implications alone at this level are staggering beyond count. It means that every tree that grows or creature that crawls or flies, is in a very literal way part of my family tree. Maybe there is a reason some Native Americans and other people sometimes referred to trees as kinfolk, “brother” or “sister”, or “father sky.” Maybe because there is a very real connection there, even if it is more at the level of “great to the nth degree great cousin.” We still share that common connection, even if our lines have long since diverged in kind, form and type.

The fact is that these days our family tree is really diverse and complex, and in some ways many of our distant relations are all but alien to us now. It is hard on an intellectual level to picture myself in the place of a tree. I would need entirely new conceptions to even be able to cope with something like that. I mean, how can I wrap my mind around not being able to walk? How would I deal with having to grow and age in the same spot year after year. It makes my human brain hurt, but trees and plants seem to pull it off just fine.

The fact that we are connected to everything could also be meant to imply that every time we fell a tree, kill an animal, or destroy a habitat we are in a very real sense, killing a member of our own family. And as much as it pains me to admit, year after year our family tree on this planet gets a little smaller. The rate of species lost is pretty staggering these days.

That fills me with a deep sense of regret and guilt, because like every other human on this planet, I am implicit in this.

I could go on and on about the other forms of life that are counted among my kin, but this would take up far too much space, so we move forward in time to a few million years ago when the first hominid ancestors started to roam the planet.

And that is where we will pick up next time.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.space.com/25126-big-bang-theory.html

http://www.big-bang-theory.com/

http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/

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

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