Thursday, January 06, 2011

People not products

Ive been a huge fan of perfumes ever since a south american ceremonialist spit some in my face and I could hear and feel the spirits of the plants speaking to me and healing me, after breathing them into my chest cavity. Maybe its my wolfyness like makes me obsess about smells and communication through scent, as well as the medicinal qualities of scent. Or maybe its that I like little bottles all around my house filled with mysterisous potions that mystify all of my house guests. I defintely do love going to antique stores and finding ancient medicine bottles!

There is somthing about the alchemy of distilling, of extraction that has always fascinated me as well. My contemplations have always gone from macro to micro, and the interconnectedness of all things from those levels is always so fascinnating! But the notion of essence, and of liberating an essence from a plant for example to make a perfume or oil is incredible. Even extracting a chemical from a plant whether its useing hot water to make a tea or some more advanced method is intriging and some what of a taboo subject among animists I know. But I often think chemistry just confuses people, and that its peoples intentions with chemistry that really bothers them. That aside the simplicity of distilling has really become a love of my life as of late.

Most perfumes are made with an essential oil. Distilling follows natures rules to the tee in the most amazingly simple ways, and heats up the essential oils releasing them into the steam and condensing them back into a fluid with cold. Smuding or burning say sage or cedar works on the same principle of evaporating the plants essential oils, or out and out burning them, releasing them into the air. An oil or hydrosol, which is the water released during steam distillation, can be worked with in a perfume, or alone and there are beautiful shamanic traditions around the world that work with them in ceremonies.

This has been a real passion of mine for years now as you can tell! But ive been really wishing to levae my current proffession and move into wildcrafting natural products and selling Hydrosols and Oils from local plants. How does one do somthing such as this as an animist? Holding to our values. Well from the start, the ethical wildcrafting of plants is very important, asking permission of the plants and the land, giving offerings of humble gratitude is important. Working with pure water from a good place is important as well. But how do we work with this notion of product, of selling a product? What is a product any way?
1. Something produced by human or mechanical effort or by a natural process.

2. A direct result; a consequence: "Is history the product of impersonal social and economic forces?" (Anthony Lewis).
3. Chemistry A substance resulting from a chemical reaction.
4. Mathematics
a. The number or quantity obtained by multiplying two or more numbers together.
b. A scalar product.
c. A vector product.

In this respect I can understand working with the word product, but as an animist I cannot help looking at the word suspiciously...
I was produced or the product of human effort and a natural proccess. Human people are thus products?  Yes they are... But they are not products in the orther use and defintion of the word.

Product; Noun~
1. Commodities offered for sale; "good business depends on having good merchandise"; "that store offers a variety of products"
Its hard to sell and buy people. Just as its hard to use people, as Ive always mention in regards to the concept of a tool. Human beings have for some time now looked rather pourly on the idea of buy and selling people, human people that is, and do not see people as commodities, ( though this could change in todays economic climate I'm sure) as a matter of fact seeing someone as a product that you could buy and sell some what unethical, and would be considered nearly patholigically anti-social and abherent behavior by todays ethical standards. Yet as an animist, we look at Salmon, and we look at Pine, at lemon, and Cabbage, and we see that we buy and sell people constantly. People are products, both litterally and in the sense of them being a commodity, but they are not human people. 
How traditional animists worked out this detail when it came to hunting, gathering, farming, herding, and trading is always extremely complex and unique and it tends to revolve around reciprocity and respect as being the priorities to observe in the dynamic and exchange. 
My challenge is how do I design a way of living in this society that adhears to my ethics and way of life as an animist? 
For one What I want to do, is get people to unstand the importance of bioregional economies, to see the relationship between ecology and economy. I want to show people how much they can love what is local so that they will strive to protect it and work with it in a way that inspires pride in place and care in how we work with place and people of place. Bioregional economies or "domestic" "products" build strength in communities, where as globalized economies weaken local communities. When we see the value a local tree has to us, we appriciate it, protect it and develope a relationship of intimacy with it. 
I see that producing hydrosols as a way for people to learn about this, I also see that the scents are the way that plants communicate, attract, as well as defened and heal themselves. The exchange of monies for these hydrosols would be to support the plants in reaching out to people for that communication, healing, and defence of itself. It is supporting the travel of these plant people. They would not be commodities that are owned or bought or sold, but given an oppertunity to work with others. They would be people not products and they would not be bought or sold but moved and supported.
I would put a picture of each plant and eco-region I harvested from including the GPS coordinates for each plant so that people could go there, and meet the spirit of the place. I would NEVER focus on consitancy of "product" but focus on the uniqueness of each extraction, the place, the time of year, the phase of the moon, the weather that day the reason for this, being that each scent will be unique and an expression of the personality of a plant, place, and community, driving the notion of other than human person of place home. I would not take the plant material from the eco-region but distill the plants there allowing them to re-enter the food chain of that place, once they had been distilled, reducing the carbon foot print. All of these things I take care of and care for because that is reciprocity and respect and working in an animist way.
It is possible to work as an animist. You do not have to sell out or drop out to be or not to be an animist in this soceity, and your efforts as an animist will create some of the changes we need to see in this world today.
Hopfully I can get this off the ground, and help the genii loci get their voice heard over greater distances!

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Animist Human Diplomats

Written by Heather Awen from her wonderful blog Adventures in Animism. Reposted with permission. Thank you Heater!

Saugerties NY

Looking out the big sun room windows of our new home, my Mom said, "I can't pick up anything from the land here."

This is big news because my Mom can read the land most anywhere. "Can you feel anything?" she asked me.

"Welllll," I paused, "It's more like I go outside and leave my offerings and sense that the spirits are here on the peripheral of my second sight. Like feeding a cat who won't let me see it, it's too scared."

My Mom needs nature spirit companionship much more than human companionship. She said, "I think they just did so much damage with the mills that the land doesn't trust us."

This is an important thing for all budding earth-honoring neopagan animistas to keep in mind. "Nature" is not something for you to "visit" and soak up the healing vibes from, dump your negative energies into, and then bail. You are not at daycare. You are an adult member of the Gaian superorganism.

Some land will automatically welcome you in, with radiant peaceful energies. Those would be lands that have been treated well. I would like you to think of land where you live that has been treated well. No clear cutting, no monoculture farming, no mining, no landfills, no power stations, no illegal dumping, no paving, no polluting.

Now that you are aware of who you are dealing with, ask yourself how logical it is for you to bombard "nature" with the gimme-gimmes?

Being any sort of activist or sensitive person, you are likely to have periods of intense burnout, and nature can help heal this. Ecopsychology claims, and I agree, that this false separation in our minds and real separation in our physical locations from nature are making us crazy. The need to return to our place within nature and remember we are natural is a real one, possibly the only need that really matters on an evolutionary survival level. We don't need to ascend from earth, we need to descend back to our home.

With us needing nature and nature having been harmed by us (nature being everything that isn't a human animal - and many human animals have been harmed by other human animals, too), it makes returning to the Gaian community a bit tricky. You might encounter a spirit that is delighted to have you back, perhaps because it heard of a time when humans were sane and helpful. Sometimes, like the case of a park that has been treated well, the trees will be happy to see you. Some vacation spots that are managed well are that way too, they like the joy people share and the praise they receive.

But the park where junkies shoot up, people strip the bark off trees, broken glass harms the others living there - You gotta show some love. Think about your neighborhood. Was there a mill? How about mining? A field with lead paint chips? An area where a battle happened? Has a dam or reservoir changed life for many other-than-human persons? What about an abandoned factory?

If a shaman's job is to mediate between the other-than-human world and the human world, this is where an animist shaman healer can get right to work.

First decide how dangerous the place is for humans. If there are toxins or sharp debris, obviously this is not a place to stand within. Organize your ritual on the sidelines, perhaps surrounding it if you have enough people, maybe one at each directional corner, or chose a view that works for you. Are there no trespassing signs? I hate breaking the law because I am anxious on a good day, so if I cannot spend a lot of time legally at a place, I might create healing objects that can be placed on the site quickly. But some people (like the ice fishmen that merrily litter beer cans through the bank of the Esopus I live on) do not care about "no trespassing" signs. It's your call. Of course, you're not going to leave any trash behind. Any magical healing charms you leave will be biodegradable made with fallen sticks, hemp twine, found feathers, shells, bones, rocks etc and biodegradable art supplies. If your healing work will be where a building still stands, I advise against entering if it is posted - You don't know how structurally sound it is.

Once you have decided where you are going to start the work of mediation between your species and the land, you need to start making trips to visit it. Simple offerings as a way of saying "hi" need to be made respectfully. This land is a stranger and you are visiting. I like to say that I am open to learning what rituals need to be done if there is anything necessary.

One time I did this and Lake Champlain, a feisty, self centered female spirit, told me about the huge rituals on her shores. Why didn't anyone do that anymore for her? So my Mom and I often lavished her with gifts and songs. Chocolate was something she was curious about. I didn't know if she liked it, but she liked the idea of how much I like it and that I was willing to part with something I didn't want to share. She had a grandmother whom I learned was the spirit of the area when this was ocean water. Lake Champlain was lonely and very talkative. When you start a relationship with the land, remember that these spirits for the most part have been neglected and want to know where the F all the devotees went?

Sometimes you will be asked to do rituals for human spirits. It might indigenous people who were forcibly moved or murdered, workers who died from the terrible conditions in pre-union days, or victims of a battle, plague, or famine.

Listen carefully to what they want. Don't jump ahead of them. If they send you an impression of burning smoke, don't jump up and run to your book of herbal incenses and pick stuff out. What they want is not very likely to be in a book. Some research might tell you what sorts of foods were favorites by these ancestors. Did they drink alcohol? In establishing healthy relationships we give people what they want, not what we want. Giving alcohol to indigenous American Indian spirits is not something I personally do, due to alcohol not being indigenous to most tribes (none that I know of) and the horrible effects it has had on the descendants of these ancestors. It seems offensive to me. But you might get a different message (I might too!). If you are working with Chinese railroad builders or African slaves or Italian factory workers - it doesn't matter - do your research about the time and culture. This shows that you care.

Researching about the exact destruction that took place can sometimes be helpful. Human spirits sometimes like the details of their death acknowledged, maybe that is about closure. Telling our stories is a main healing step for those of us who suffer from trauma. Maybe talking about how many trees were murdered and how the waters were poisoned, and the fish died etc etc while crying will show the nature spirits that you care. But if you don't details, or don't have a sign that they are needed, forget it.

The land I am on right now, less than a mile from a former mill, where the soil is sickly and the wildlife is starting to return, wants an apology. I can tell we won't be able to move ahead til I say on behalf of my species, I am sorry. If someone harmed you gravely and then wanted to make nice but wouldn't apologize, would you trust them? No. Did I personally do this damage? No, but I am an ambassador.

Be honest. I always say that I am not very valued by my species and have little power, so I cannot promise anything terrible won't happen again - but that I wish for the land to be healthy and safe. Sometimes I am called to do a protection ritual, without knowing why. I guess all land today is under attack as laws change to keep the corporate socialism going strong.

If the land is going to be continuously abused, like with nuclear testing or more strip mining, don't try to call it to life just to have to enter into more pain. You wouldn't snap a just-raped woman out of dissociation just in time to be raped again, right? Send it psychic morphine, make prayers for all other-than-human persons to get out safely, and do all you can to stop the tragedy in the future.

OK, so how do you know what the land needs? Since I spent most of my life honing the intuition my mother also has, I am not sure what to tell you. The training it takes to learn intuitive healing, psychic readings, and spell casting all apply here. Stay open, is the best advice. If the answers come quickly and clearly, I am guessing your imaginative ego made them up.

If there are indigenous people already doing earth-honoring rituals and you are invited, remember that it's not your show. 3rd degree High Priestess with a Masters in Comparative Shamanism doesn't get to tell the elder how to do it "right". That's the effects of racism and colonialism at work.

I personally feel that the vague "pray for the environment" stuff people send as junk emails to me don't do that much good. Any magician worth her wand knows that specific goals, correct relationships, and right timing made or break the magic. If I was sick, I'd rather the doctor looked at my chart to see what I needed and gave that to me, instead of randomly guessing and injecting me with sulfa which I am allergic to. Get my point?

True magic, as all us Dion Fortune/Starhawk reading Magi and Witches know, changes consciousness. If you can do these ceremonies and then buy nonrecycled toilet paper, empty your ashtray on the side of a dirt road, drink a plastic bottle of water a day, and go 4 wheeling in fragile ecosystems, the magic did not work. The rituals have to change you too.

Some things to do in concert with the ritual work that makes the magic work much faster and stronger are:
join a local environmental group
pick up trash on the side of the road or in a park
learn permaculture skills and use them in your garden
experiment with grey water, worm composting, passive solar, etc
plant plants that bees and birds love
make "seed bombs" and guerrilla garden some vacant lots
water young trees starting out their lives on city street
drive less, buy less, throw away less (all them basics you're meant to do anyway!)

In my mind, there is no division between matter and spirit. I say I am a materialist because I worship what is, what I can touch and see and smell and taste. A tree isn't holy because "God" gave it a spirit - the spirit doesn't matter as much to me as the actual material being. (This doesn't mean that I don't believe all things have spirits or, more accurately, that I don't think that all things share one spirit; I do. But that isn't what gives any being its worth to me.) For those of you who believe that "spiritual" is a code word for "good", then think of it this way, treating Life well in physical ways is a spiritual. (You are a spiritually good mother when you feed your hungry child.) To me, they are all the same thing anyway. Smells, sounds, intuitions, telepathy, precognition, disembodied humans, tastes, feelings of cold and hot, light - There is a lot going on and to be dualistic and make everything one thing or another inevitably leads to the human pastime of "Which is good and which is bad?" That hasn't worked out so well for us, so dualistic thinking I tend to ignore as being generally harmful.

Building relationships with the land and other-than-human persons is like building relationships with other human animals. Some will not like you. Some will be in pain. Most will have baggage. Sometimes you don't have any ability to communicate with each other. Some have their own healing already going on and don't want your energies included - too many healers messes up the healing. IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU. This actually should be the animist motto. Other-than-humans - be they thunderbirds, dairy cows, ravens, oak trees, fungi, waterfalls, marshlands - are not here to amuse, save, or profit you. It is imperative that we get rid of the dominator-culture mentality that the mainstream religions have poisoned our minds with. We are not above Life, we are a part of Life. Again, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU.

This is why I think animism doesn't appeal to most people. They want to be saved or enlightened. Religion is self centered, not relationship centered. In the Western world religion has come to mean personal growth. Not worshipping the Gods, not honoring the others we share the world with, not bowing in gratitude. It's become naval gazing to the point that our heads are up our arses, as Life goes on around us. Animism reconnects us to the world, to Life. Desire becomes good, desire for health, desire for sanity, desire for peace, desire for joy. Attachment to place brings us sanity and healing. When you know that you belong to the land - not some fantasy landscape but land you actually live within - alienation and isolation leave you. The world is no longer a trap of temptations to be punished in life after life til you "get it right" nor is it a battlefield of good versus evil, where you dodge landmines until you're saved and get to Heaven, never to return.

John Seed, a hero of mine, talked about how he went from being a farmer fighting to stop destruction of the forest where he lives in Australia to realizing he is a part of the forest defending itself. You may not have generations of elders buried in the land where you live or a history of sacred stories about the trees and animals and waters in your community (and maybe they have lost their stories about us humans, too). But to return to sanity we must return to a sense of place.

Animist healers, shamanic diplomats, neopagan ambassadors -- The world needs you! Go outside and state your intention to build better human - nonhuman relations. And then don't you dare go back on your word! We - the wes of the ancestors, the wes of the future, the wes of other-than-humans, the wes of humans today - are counting on you. And blessings on you, each and every one of you mending the tear in the fabric of Life.

And the remarkable thing is, as you gain the trust of the other-than-human persons you live with, they will start doing those healings, those magical things you wished for. It is called friendship. It will be two way if you work at it.

Happy New Year. The land calls