Thursday, January 21, 2010

Whats a relational ontology any way?

Whats a relational Ontology?


Well bioregionalism we can look up and get kinda an idea of what this guys talking about... but whats animism?
Look it up online and you will get the old definition of animism, which is outdated and inaccurate and down right offensive to animists. wrought with colonial ideologies and misconceptions, not to mention cultural projections. Well you could wiki animism or even new animism which is partially what BRA's frame work of relating to animism works with... but your not going to find it. You used to be able to find mentions of new animist authors and academics, but they have been edited out sadly.
So where do we find a good recent and accurate definition of what animism actually is outside of interviewing animists themselves, we have to seek Graham Haverys Dictionary on shamanism actually to find the definition. This is a spendy book, and I suggest that instead you just look at the side bar of this blog... the definition is right there for your convenience, as well as mine.
But for redundancies sake lets post it right here again....

New Animism defined
New Animism:
"Arguably the proper label for the type of religion practiced among traditional indigenous people who employ shamans. Rather then being "shamanists" or adherents of "shamanism," these people may be usefully named "animists." While the term was coined by Edward Tylor ( a founder of the discipline of anthropology) to define the essence of religion as 'the belief in spirits" and has played a significant role in theories about the origins of religion, it is used here in a new way. The old theory of animism alleged that indigenous people and the earliest human ancestors had made a mistake in believing in spirits. The new theory, associated with Nurit Bird-David, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Signe Howell, and others, sees animism as a relational ontology-the recognition that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human. In Irving Hallowell's terms, there are human persons and other-then-human-persons, including rock persons, tree persons, cloud persons, and perhaps "spirit persons."Animist worldviews and life ways make it necessary for there to be shamans because (1) humans are relatively weak and need to seek help ( in the form of knowledge, healing, or defense) from more powerful other-then-human-persons and (2) humans often offend other-then-human-persons and need mediators in order to restore respectful relationships. In this context, shamans may be defined as those persons trained and skilled at working for their community when it is necessary to seek help from or reconciliation with the wider community of life. In turn, as Graham Harvey has argued, animism makes shamans both possible and necessary because their roles are about dealing with the problems of the living world."from:Graham Harvey and Robert J Wallis : Historical Dictionary of Shamanism

This definition is fairly straight forward, utilizing simple as well as complex concepts to describe the natural phenomena we find within human societies and individuals known to us as being animist.

But lets clarify some of the terminology here. What is meant by a relational ontology? Sounds a little confusing, like the inner language of some academic philosophical cabal. Well it is! So don't feel bad if it flew right past you! The above definition really articulates what this means however. Animism's purest most simple definition is that it is a relational ontology. An ontology is a way a people or a person views the world, a more accurate definition of ontology is : branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
Or :


Lets work with these two as they are the most accurate.


Now a relational ontology can be looked at in a few different ways, the types of enties in the universe are our relations is one way of looking at it, another is that everything in the universe is due to relationships, everything is interconnected, interwoven, one, everything can relate to us and we can relate to every"thing" as a one. It is the notion that we are not the only entities in the universe that relate, and establish and maintain relationships. If we do it then it is a quality that the universe possesses. Now Harvey puts it very well when he points out that animist people believe in "the recognition that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human." This is the most perfect definition of animism, of what a relational ontology is.

Now how does this relate to Bioregional animism and its unique stance on the subject. Bioregional animism points out that the land is a person and that we are a part of or one with that person, we are a part of its family, the mind or consciousness of that bioregion or life place is our mind as well as spirit and its body is our body. This can go macro to micro as well with the Earth and cosmos to individual communities and even ecosystems and even totems for example. Bioregional animism is unique in that way. We are the land dancing, we are place. As bioregional animisms we learn to identify as the life place and allow it to move and guide us while embracing our own unique expression and identity. Bioregional animism is unique in that each expression of bioregional animism is unique to the co-creativity of people and place. It will look different within communities that inhabit the same bioregion. Why? Because it is based on relationships, on how one relates and how one is related to. This is what I call a relational dynamic, which is changing and a co-creative expression of a people or person and place (also a person).

I hope that this cultivates some thought as well as clarity.

Bless and be blessed

LLB