(One of my own photos, a great place for thinking about nature.)
Hello again folks,
As a follow up to my last post on this blog, today I want to talk about what might be called nature spirits. Now there is a great deal of nuance in how we talk about this, and simply calling the multitude of beings that inhabit the world as just “spirits” in some way is doing them a disservice. It is a common word, which in some ways conveys what I want to talk about, and in some ways it does not.
I have had a pretty consistent definition of animism all throughout this blog; and that being that the world is full of persons, and that life is lived in relation with others.
People or persons gets to the heart of what I want to talk about more than the word “spirit”, but for purposes of this piece I will be using both concepts more or less interchangeably. What is really important, more than what we call these beings, is that they are active participants in the world. They are actors on the social stage, agents in their own right; each with their own needs, desires, and agendas.
Agency is at its simplest the capacity to act. This is also the simplest definition of what it means to be an actor, a participant in an action or process. This is what I am talking about when I refer to spirits and persons; actors in the world. Beings with their own desires and agendas.
Now agency can run the gamut from a relatively simple actions, such as a bacterium, to the much more complex beings such as you and I. When we talk of spirits, we are talking about active agents in an environment. The world becomes a much more interesting place when we consider that it is full of actors. That means whatever we do, we are in a social environment, and not an inert one.
To put this another way and circling back to where we started, this means that the world is full of persons that are active participants in the world. They are building relationships with each other, cooperating, competing, and eating one another. They are working with us, working against us, and generally doing what it is they need to do.
We are just one among billions of species on this planet, each of which is driven by its own needs, desires and agenda. The needs of a human are different than those of an oak tree, which are different from those of a Whitetail deer. In addition, that is only considering the beings we consider to be biologically living.
Yet, this is only one half of the equation. The world is full of persons, that much has been established all throughout this blog. But the purpose of this piece is not to reinforce that idea, but to talk about the other essential part of my animism. That life is lived in relation with one another, that all persons exist in a social environment, in a network of entangled relationships. In a much more poetic sense, we all exist in a great Web that includes every being on this planet.
In my last post on this blog, I discussed how we relate to our ancestors (which in some way, all beings are.) In this post, I want to talk more about how we relate to those that don’t look or interact with the world in the same way humans do. I want to talk about our relations to non-human beings, those we consider part of nature.
I talked about some of these things here, in the past, but I want to take this post in a bit of a different way. I want to talk about some of the ways I relate to the people in my local area, and hopefully give you some food for thought on how to develop your own practice.
If you consider things on a global scale, then we have relations with every other being on this planet, human or not. Sometimes these are active relationships, ones that we consciously engage with each and every day. Some are passive relationships, and they may be things we do without awareness or on a subconscious level.
Take for example me writing on this laptop. I think I have used this example before, but consider the laptop I am working on right now. The oil to produce the plastic in the case might have came from the Middle East, to be manufactured in Asia, with rare metals from Africa, and other components from the Americas; all to get these words to you.
This is a fairly toxic relationship, once you consider all the environmental and social damage it does just so I can write these words. That says nothing of the electricity that I need, which is likely also created with the use of fossil fuels. Are you familiar with The Story of Stuff? Might be worth checking out for some more on what I am talking about.
These are facts of our relationships that we need to be conscious of, and do everything in our power to actively change how these relationships are shaped. But before I harp too much on that, let’s bring this down to a local level. What do I do everyday to make things a little bit better for the natural persons around me?
As one example, my household is actively engaged in rewilding about half of our yard. We just let it grow in whatever way it works, and just use minimal maintenance to create little walking trails through the area. Lawn culture on the whole is kind of toxic, so this way we are giving back a little bit. I have already noticed a change in the “feel” of the area, and it feels a little bit healthier. In addition, we have seen a flourishing of wildlife; butterflies, rabbits, and birds of all sorts. More than that, it has cut down on the amount of labor (my full lawn takes three hours to mow) we had to put in, but in addition we cut down on the amount of fossil fuels we had to run through our riding mower. (2 tanks for the full lawn, vs 1 for half. Plus seasonal oil changes, and air pollution).
As another example, I also live pretty much in 20,000 acres worth of state park. Whenever I go out, I usually take a bag with me. Whenever I find trash I tend to pick it up, and I often leave offerings of herbs or water when I feel compelled to. This is a really complex process, and there a lot of considerations that go into this. A big part of that is getting to know the land in a considerable depth, so that you know whether or not what you intend to offer is safe for the environment.
Lupa had some greats thoughts on this here;
“ How much do you know about your bioregion? What’s the geology that forms its foundation, and how does it affect the climate and weather? What animals, plants, fungi and other living beings share space with you there? What did it look like before large numbers of humans arrived? What did it look like 10,000 years ago? 100,000? 100 million? “
There are a lot of considerations that need to go into building relationships with the land and with nature spirits, but this is important and necessary work. As humans, we have had an enormous impact on a global scale. So much is that is a direct result of living out of equilibrium with our environment. We cannot continue to live as if our actions have no consequences. To put a fine point on it, we need to build much more sustainable and reciprocal relationships with our environment. There is a lot we can do as individuals, but it is important to understand that individual actions alone will not be enough in the long run. We will need to work together collectively to create a more harmonious future for everyone.
And that means rethinking our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our natural world.
Thanks for reading!