As I’m away for the next two weeks, I’m posting this months contribution for the animist blog carnival today. The topic for July is “Becoming An Animist” and this month it is being hosted at Paganaidd’s blog. You can also find further information on Heather’s page at Post Pagan. Please contact Heather if you want to take part too.
My journey to Animism began three years ago when I left my previous Christian faith and began to explore other spiritualities. I have been especially attracted to nature spirituality and Pantheism because of its connection to scientific enquiry. Along my journey I came across Druidry and found it to be a nature spirituality I could really identify with. One of the key beliefs in Druidry is in nature spirits and the spirits of the land. Learning about this was the first time I became aware of the animist view of the world. I struggle to believe in any supernatural spirits but interpreting “nature spirits” as all the animals, plants, birds, micro-organisms e.t.c around me suffices.
The second influence came when I explored Neo-Animism, which removes the need for a belief in supernatural spirits and focuses instead on relationships and seeing other animals and plants as “persons.” The idea is that the world is full of “persons,” only some of whom are human e.g. oak tree persons, cloud persons, hedgehog persons e.t.c and that we are in relationship with them so should treat them with respect. This is something I could identify with.
A third influence was researching Shintoism, specifically I came across the idea of the Kami. While they are interpreted as spirits, their actual name means “outstanding” and could refer to any natural feature in the world that was particularly awe-inspiring. Being in awe of a big mountain or a waterfall or a beautiful forest or a wonderful sunset – these things have a spiritual sense about them and could rightly be called Kami without any need for saying there is a spiritual being behind them.
A fourth influence was ancestor veneration. The past three years have seen two people close to me die, one tragically in an accident which led me away from Christianity in the first place. I think this is what led me to such an interest in ancestor veneration which is also a big part of Animism. Seeing that one could respect and remember ancestors without having to believe they literally survived death or could hear you was important to me taking up the practice.
A fifth influence was the book “The Wakeful World” by Emma Restall Orr. She is one of the best pagan writers I have come across and her book explained Animism and nature spirits in a very rational way. The ideas of Panpsychism and Panexperientialism and the idea that some form of “experiencing” must be true all the way down – from the smallest electron to the largest universe, makes a lot of sense to me and helps overcome major problems in the Mind-Body debate.
The sixth influence was Pantheism. As I became a Pantheist and I began to see the world as sacred, I realised I had to live out my values and that led me to become a vegetarian and ultimately a vegan. Although I wasn’t animist at that point, I was not eating other animals because I thought they deserved respect and we should look after all life.
The seventh influence was Albert Schweitzer. His philosophy of Reverence for Life as the highest ethic has been a defining philosophical influence on my life since I left Christianity. He argued that everything wants to live, survive and flourish. Therefore all things value life. Humans want to live, survive and flourish so humans evidently put a value on life….in fact we put the highest value on life. Philosophical inquiry about this fact will inevitably lead one to realise that all life should be valued and respected and that will ultimately lead one to seeing reverence for life as a key moral value.
The eighth influence was deep ecology. This is a philosophical idea that says that humans are not superior, we are not here to “take dominion” or use the world in any way we wish. Animals, plants and other life forms are not ours to use and exploit, and they are not “resources.” Rather, we are simply one species among many, all have inherent value in themselves regardless of their usefulness to us, and therefore we should respect them and seek to live in harmony.
Finally was the influence of science. Science clearly teaches us through evolution that we are one part of a whole web of life, we are all interconnected, we are all kin with every living thing – that makes us family (I have always held the belief that eating family is wrong). Seeing everything as family changes our attitudes towards things – to an attitude of respect for each part of the world, and that is Animism. Not only that, but the humbling insights of science – that we are one small world, going round one unimportant star, one of hundreds of millions of stars on the outer edge of one galaxy among a hundred billion, definitely puts into perspective any self-importance we still hold about ourselves. When we come to a realisation of that, we can no longer see ourselves as more important than the world around us, we can no longer believe things are here just for us and our attitudes towards other life and the world must change to become more animistic.
Animism for me comes from a variety of influences, it guides my ethics and life choices and it teaches me of my place in the world. I do not believe in literal supernatural spirits, but I do believe in respecting every person, whether human or not. I do hold reverence for life as the highest ethical principle and I do accept the philosophical premise that everything experiences in some way. I see the world as sacred and divine, I seek to honour my ancestors and I seek to connect with and learn about the natural world around me. For me, these things make me an animist and while I can’t point to one key moment when I became an animist, the journey I have been on over the past three years has inevitably led me to this position – that Animism and Pantheism go together.