Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obligation to all life

As an animist I feel an overwhelming obligation to the practice of animism. The practice of animism is to me the maintenance, establishment and honoring of relationships with life, my fellow humans, and all of the other-than-human-persons that compose that which we come to know as the totality of existence. The practice of animism renews and deepens the sense of obligation to practice animism within the practice itself! The sense of obligation naturally emerges, we find through the practice the necessity of the practice for the over all sense of wellness for the entire ecology of existence. We find that we must relate with respect and honor to life in order for life to continue in a state of wellness, our wellness and our obligation to be well is then perceived through our practice to be interwoven with the wellness of those we have relationships with.

The more one practices as an animist the more one finds there is not one aspect of the totality we do not have an obligation to serve for the benefit of mutual wellness. Through the fulfillment of this obligation we find our selves blessed and blessing all that is around us.

bless and be blessed


Kincentric ecology and bioregional animism


"Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. The kin, or relatives, include all the natural elements of an ecosystem. Indigenous people are affected by and, in turn, affect the life around them. The interactions that result from this ‘‘kincentric ecology’’ enhance and preserve the ecosystem. Interactions are the commerce of ecosystem functioning. Without human recognition of their role in the complexities of life in a place, the life suffers and loses its sustainability. Indigenous cultural models of nature include humans as one aspect of the complexity of life. A Rarámuri example of iwıg will serve to enhance understanding of the human–nature relationship that is necessary in order to fully comprehend the distinct intricacies of kincentric ecology."

Kincentric ecology is a word coined by Dr. Enrique Salmo'n a member of the Rara'muri people of Northern Mexico. "Life in any environment is viable only when humans view their surroundings as kin; that their mutual roles are essential for survival." Salmo'n points out quoting Leslie Silko This perspective is a natural sense which emerges out of relating to the world from an animist perspective. The sense of oneness with family members, with kin expands not to just all of humanity but all other-than-human-persons the life-place itself. Whether this relationship is understood from a more metaphysical context or from a souly social context the feeling of kinship with the ecological world with the life-place one lives within is summed up quite nicely by chief Richard Atleo of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people...

The Creator made all things one.
All things are related and interconnected.
All things are sacred.
All things are therefore to be respected

In this above statement we can see how the animist way of relating brings about a sense of kinship, that which we relate to is thus a relative... there is not one thing that we cannot relate to or have a relationship with, we are thus relatives, those who relate with one another, we are related, we exist because of relationship, we are one big family, made of the same stuff, the same blood, the same body, soul, spirit, we are made of star dust, we share the same breath will all that is, we are one family, we are one.

This sense of oneness is rare and often debated or sought after by mystics and philosophers in other non-animist traditions. Mystics spend life times dedicated to this "one taste" that transpersonal philosopher Ken Wilber speaks of. Within animist traditions this "one taste" quite often is a given, the foundation that all other experience is built upon, a humble awareness and a simple point of view not held on high as the ultimate transcendent experience but the basis of all experience. Stories, rituals and ceremonial practices maintain this experience in the daily lives of animists, initiatory, and polyphasic transrational methods maintain and develop differing levels and degrees of this awareness according the the individual needs of members of animist society's, to further, or deepen this awareness of kinship and oneness, for the benefit of the entire ecosystem. Examples being the Amazonian traditions of initiatory experiences and education with the entheogenic plant teacher ayahuasca or solitary fasting practices in many animist traditions world wide.

If animism is a kincentric practice then bioregional animism is a kincentric as well as region or place-centric relational ontology. Bioregional animists there for focus on immediate and local kinfolk. They interact with their relations daily and intimately, of coarse they are one with the larger whole, the totality of existence even, but choose to focus quite pragmatically with the ground under their feet and the sky above their heads, the other-than-human-persons that are their immediate relatives living just next door so to speak. Why? Why not focus on say the Amazon when your living in New Jersey your one with the Amazon you can work with the spirits of the amazon your distant kinfolk, why not? The simplest most heart felt answer I can come up with to that and the main motivation for being place centric in our kincentric world view and daily practice as an animist is that we are needed where we stand. Our family needs us where we are and by focusing our efforts and our putting attention into our local relationships with our relatives we establish the right conditions for life to be good where we ARE... "Life in any environment is viable only when humans view their surroundings as kin; that their mutual roles are essential for survival." by this she means our current surroundings, look around at what surrounds you. What are your relationships with the kin surrounding you? Who are they do you know their names... their individual names not species names... what they call themselves. Do you know how to speak their language? Do you treat them with respect and honor? Is there love in your relationship with your larger family? Do you communicate with them? As an animist or some one interested in or practicing shamanry what is your relationship to the land you live within, with the your kin next door? These are the questions bioregional animists ask themselves.

Friday, January 25, 2008

What nourishes you?

I like to eat from my bioregion, as much as I can. I feel renewed when I can get fresh vegetables and things from the local merchants here. I like to eat baby spinach on sandwiches in place of lettuce. ham and swiss on whole wheat with sprouts apples I love wildflower honey from Uppingill farm and their wicked good strawberries when in season. the birds singing at the feeders in themorning being with the land, its sounds, its smells watching the eagles fly up over the ridge stone people walking in the forest and leaving prayer stones as I go lazing in the summer heat at Barton's Cove overlooking the river..watching the world go by fishin the quiet of a fresh fallen snow the beautiful birches and ironwood that hang over my back yard creating a calm shade to relax in red geraniums picking fiddleheads in the spring and making fiddlehead soup...YUM children laughing the sound of native drums Jim Boyd & Ulali The good people here in Bioregional animism ... lots more...but what nourishes YOU?

Nanci~Little Shield

Currently living in Los Angeles, I am nourished by thoughts and memories of lush, gorgeous places I've traveled in the past -- waterfalls, mountaintops, pristine rivers, fertile valleys....

And I'm nourished by the vision of the future of urban living -- with rooftop gardens, water catchment, sustainable energy, bicycle culture, 95% reduction in cars/trucks, plenty of fast public transport, dancing and music in the streets! Etc!

I'm also nourished by oranges and lemons in season down here in So Cal right now.

I'm nourished by the color of sunsets.

Living in the city, I am nourished by the beautiful architecture and the way the light hits their facades at different times of day, and the design and craftsmanship that went into their making. I'm nourished by strolling along the boulevards and watching all the other people who share the street with me -- vendors, people walking their dogs, bicyclists, parents with children, crazy pigeons, performers who play beautiful music for pocket change. I'm nourished by the parks and greenways, and the people who work to keep them alive and keep them safe to be in. I'm nourished by the tiny sun porch in our apartment, and our houseplants, and by watching Anna, a resident in my building who cares for the landscaping outside as a labor of love. I'm nourished by the silence when my Quaker group meets for worship, and then by strolling to the farmer's market afterward to buy produce from farmers in the region.

What nourishes me:

the farmer's market
watching the veritable baby parade at the farmer's market
making tea
seeing the hills turn green
learning about the plants and herbs
hiking through the hills
checking in at the ancestors' altar
warm baths on cold nights
this tribe
stone people
bird calls
my fiance
my family
my dreams

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Animism Essay


Steve Beyer
has doctorates in religious studies and in psychology. He has been a university professor, lawyer, wilderness guide, and peacemaker. He has studied both wilderness survival and the indigenous cultures of North and South America. He has studied sacred plant medicine with traditional herbalists in North America and with ayahuasqueros in the Upper Amazon, where he received coronación by banco ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho Jurama. He has worked with ayahuasca and other sacred plants in the Amazon, peyote in ceremonies of the Native American Church, and huachuma in Peruvian mesa rituals. He is an editor of the Journal of Shamanic Practice, and is currently completing a book on shamanism, sorcery, and plant medicine in the Upper Amazon.

Animism is the view that human beings on the earth live — whether they know it or not — in community with persons who are not human beings. These other-than-human persons may include animals, plants, trees, rocks, clouds, thunder, and stars. The phrase other-than-human persons was coined by anthropologist Irving Hallowell to describe the world of the Ojibwe, in which humans, animals, fish, birds, and plants — and some rocks, trees, and storms — are all relational, intentional, conscious, and communicative beings.

Other-than-human persons may be helpful, harmful, callous, malicious, indifferent, or tricky, just like human persons. It is often helpful or necessary to enter into personal relationships with them; such relationships with other-than-human persons may be comforting, demanding, or dangerous, just as with human persons. As a result of such relationships, other-than-human persons may provide information, insight, power, vision, healing, protection, songs, and ceremonies. The receipt of such gifts entails reciprocal obligations, just as with human persons.

And we should not read the phrase other-than-human as implying that humans constitute some standard of personhood to which others must aspire. Graham Harvey, a scholar of indigenous religions, points out that the phrase is used specifically for communication among humans; presumably chipmunks think of humans as other-than-chipmunk persons.

Animism is thus what anthropologist Nurit Bird-David has called a "relational epistemology." Persons are recognized in a variety of ways, including whether they can be talked with, whether gifts can be exchanged with them, and whether they can be engaged in a cultural system of respect and reciprocity. Thus, human persons can give gifts to stone persons, who can receive those gifts, and give their own gifts to human persons in return.

Recognizing such personhood is not indiscriminate. The Ojibwe, says Hallowell, “do not perceive stones, in general, as animate, any more than we do.” Rather, the stones who are persons have been seen to move or to manifest other animate qualities. Similarly, among the Saami, only certain stones, called sieidi, have hunger, emotions, or families; they are recognized to be persons because they have been observed to sing, for example, or move, or laugh, or shout.

As Harvey has pointed out, other-than-human persons do not have to look or speak like human persons to be recognized. Other-than-human persons "have their own ways of communicating," he told an interviewer, "and a large part of animism may be finding the appropriate way to communicate, to spend time with a tree and listen, and you can't just go up to any old tree and expect it to engage with you. So the etiquette of animism is about spending time and listening, not about trying to project being human onto something which very clearly isn't."

This use of the term animism differs sufficiently from its earlier use that sometimes the term neoanimism is used instead. The term animism was coined by nineteenth-century anthropologist Edward Tylor to define the essence of religion as "the belief in spirits" — that is, as a category mistake made by young children and primitives who project life onto inanimate objects, at least until they reach a more advanced stage of development. The more recent view, on the other hand, does not see animism as a set of beliefs so much as a way of engaging with the world. This engagement is based on relationships, within which humans are not separate from the world or distinct from other beings in any meaningful way. Indeed, for some humans — certain clans, for example — the mutual relationship with a particular other-than-human person, sometimes called a totem, from the Ojibwe word dodem, can provide a significant focus for social and ritual life.

This engagement is often reflected in animist mythology, in which other-than-human persons were created before humans, at one time spoke with humans in a mutually intelligible language, and, indeed, appeared in the form of humans. In some cultures, other-than-human persons are believed to see themselves in human form, and thus as self-aware of their own personhood.

Harvey is one of the most eloquent current defender of the neoanimist world view, both in his book Animism: Respecting the Living World and in his Animist Manifesto. Harvey draws the ecological and ethical conclusions inherent in "ontologies and epistemologies in which life is encountered in a wide community of persons only some of whom are human." The new animism, he says, "contests modernist preconceptions and invites the widening of relational engagements generated and enhanced by gift exchanges and other forms of mutuality. Animism, he says, "encourages humans to see the world as a diverse community of living persons worthy of particular kinds of respect." As he puts it — pointedly — in his Manifesto:

Since all that exists lives — and since all that lives is, in some senses, to some degree, conscious, communicative and relational — and since many of the persons with whom we humans share this planet have a far better idea of what’s going on than we do — we can now stop all the silliness about being the pinnacle of creation, the highest achievement of evolution, the self-consciousness of the world or cosmos… We’re just part of the whole living community and we’ve got a lot to learn. Our job isn’t to save the planet, or speak for the animals, or evolve towards higher states. Many other-than-human people are already happily self-aware, thank you very much, and if we paid attention we might learn a few things ourselves.

One of the most compelling recent works to put forward an animist worldview is The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. "We are human," he writes, "only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human." Drawing on the perceptual phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, where he finds the roots of a participatory theory of perception, he argues for a return to an animistic vision of the natural world as a remedy to the radical separation from nature that emerged with Western civilization. He speaks of "the intuition that every form one perceives ... is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are very different from our own.”

Abram thus argues for an inclusive animism — one in which not only animals and plants are sentient and self-aware “but also the meandering river from which those animals drink, and the torrential monsoon rains, and the stone that fits neatly into the palm of the hand. The mountain, too, has its thoughts.” When indigenous cultures speak of spirits, he says, what they are really referring to are "those modes of intelligence or awareness that do not possess a human form" — that is, precisely, other-than-human persons.

Interestingly, Abram conjectures that modern culture has lost its animism because of the emergence of the text. In the Phaedrus, Plato quotes Socrates as warning that writing “will introduce forgetfulness into the soul,” because people will come to trust in the static, written word, rather than “the words of an oak,” or a stone. When text replaces the world as the communicator of truth, then the text is treated animistically, as having its own voice, its own spirit. "The animating interplay of the senses has been transferred to another medium," says Abram, "another locus of participation. It is the written text that provides this new locus. ... The 'inert' letters on the page now speak to us. This is a form of animism ... as mysterious as a talking stone. And indeed, it is only when a culture shifts its participation to these printed letters that the stones fall silent."

As an alternative to being "hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves," Abram proposes a return to animism. "Only by affirming the animateness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world." He quotes these Lakota words expressing reverence for a rock:

from time without
you rest
there in the midst of the paths
in the midst of the winds
you rest
covered with the droppings of birds
grass growing from your feet
your head decked with the down of birds
you rest
in the midst of the winds
you wait
Aged one.

If you have ever slept in the comforting shelter of an aged and moss-covered rock, you will understand these words.

Now, all of this clearly relates to shamanism. Animism, in fact, is the form of life within which shamanism occurs — as Harvey puts it, which makes shamanism both possible and necessary. Shamans work within animist communities to maintain right relationships with the other-than-human persons on whom the community depends. These relationships must be maintained because humans need the gifts of other-than-human persons — their wisdom, power, and protection, and their bodies for our food. As Harvey puts it, in his typical way, "Respecting someone is no reason for not eating them."

Three animist websites of interest are Animism, the companion website for Graham Harvey's book by the same name; Wild Ethics, the website for David Abrams and his Alliance for Wild Ethics; and Bioregional Animism, which puts animism squarely in the context of place, where it belongs.