The Animist’s Craft

It seems only necessary to begin fairly early on in this collection of thoughts with a post on Animism. After all I have stridently declared it to be my craft. When deciding on a name for my blog I meandered my way through a whole host of inventive nature-based permutations of ‘Druid’,’ Heathen’ and ‘Pagan’, but nothing seemed to reflect my religion and the way I practice it. Whilst I claim elements of each of these as a part of my craft (on different days each can feel totally right), none of them feel like me in their entirety and never have sufficiently, for me to use them with absolute consistency. In this year’s census I entered ‘Pagan-Druid’, as many did, feeling that it was important to enter something that would be meaningful and counted, that might change society’s understanding of the religious landscape of Britain in the 21st century, even if it did not describe me exactly. What I really wanted to enter was simply ‘Animist’ but I knew that would not be recognised in any meaningful way.

When I began my training and study of paganism, it was assuredly and confidently as a Witch. A woman of the ‘Old Religion’ of these islands, lotions, potions, cauldrons and magic.¬†That religion, as I learnt it, was simply known as ‘The Craft’. Early on it expressed to me the artistry of the Witch, her ability to craft magic, bend nature to her will, create what she needed with the right spell. I strode out, reclaiming what I felt to be a misused and abused word, naively sure of what it meant, mistakenly believing that I knew ‘something’. Thankfully this was an idea which dissolved pretty quickly, never to return along with my delusions of grandeur, helped along their way by some good teaching with solid ethics. In many ways though, everything and nothing has changed in my understanding. I still use the word ‘Craft’ here quite deliberately, because its simplicity continues to describe my religion perfectly, but for different reasons now than it did then.

I no longer practice magic in the above sense, that bending of nature to our own ends is deeply flawed within my own understanding of animism, although I know how deeply and powerfully it works. Magic is a sad reflection of our culture that assumes that we can have anything at any cost even to another’s detriment. Who loses love or money or a car or the job so that we can find it? Somehow there will be balance, someone or something will lose out, or at least, we cannot assume that there won’t be a kick back. Should we care anyway if another loses so that we can gain? Really these questions require far more than the few hundred words I can give them in this post, but it is here that the key and central tenet to what I understand animism to be is; Everything has value. This is not the value that we as humanity might place upon it, how useful it is to us, what we can gain from it or how we might bend it to our needs, but that each thing in it’s own right, tree, stone, wasp, plastic bottle, subatomic particle, has it’s own value apart from that which anything or anyone else might place upon it. Each thing has it’s own intention and purpose, its own reason for being even if that is not clear to us. This is where I find sanctity in nature, in the understanding that everything, whether we percieve it or not is animated and alive and valuable. To use religious language it has spirit.

Magical practice then, disturbs and holds no regard for the individual purpose or value of another being. It places our own needs above that of anything else effectively disconnecting us from the threads of relationship, empathy and connection that hold us within the web. Here again, is another central tenet of what I understand to be animism, that of relationship. As an animist if I consider my sacred text to be written in the value and the inherant purpose or intention of all things, then my religious practice is the exploration of my relationship with each thing, or rather being, I encounter. Because I believe and understand it to have life and sentience, whether that is the food I eat, the rain, the sun, the car or the cat.

Relationship is vital because none of us exist within a vacuum. We are, each of us, part of and connected to a vast web by the relationships we have and create with the world around us. As consciousness grows, we begin to understand that in a very real and tangible way, what we do to the web we do to ourselves. This is not the naive and oft trotted out law of 3 fold return or ‘an it harm none, do what thou wilt’. The implication here is that divine justice will be metered out for doing bad, yet my gods do not care enough for humanity to mete out punishment. No, this is the absolute understanding that because we are created by the relationships we experience, our inner landscapes are a reflection of the world around us. The changes we effect externally become internal because our sense of separation from the world becomes diluted. We Craft our own experience of reality, perspectives and understanding of the world based on the experiences and relationships we have and I would go so far as to say that we do this absolutely and completely without exception, although much of that creativity may go on below the level of our consciousness and we may have no notion of how we have created it or can affect the changing of it. This does not mean however, that through exploration we cannot become increasingly more conscious of it and learn how.

So the ultimate and never ending journey of the animist is to expand and push back the boundaries of our awareness of relationship in order to effect those changes within ourselves, becoming more deeply aware of what we create and having the free will to decide how we do it, with the understanding of the effects we craft as we move through the web. Rather than bending nature to our will, we find a current which is already flowing in the right direction and create the relationship with it that will take us where we need to be. We follow the flows already inherent within nature, rather than fighting against them.

These powerful currents and flows within nature are my gods. They are the threads that bind the world together and unravel it at the edges. They are the solid mud of the land, the sea currents, the stillness of the darkness and the frost that strips the leaves from the trees. Sometimes I call them by the names and stories of our ancestors, most usually for me those of the Giant or Jotun folk of the English and Germanic traditions. At others they are simply the flows of nature, human and non, but that is the subject of another post entirely.

Ultimately my animism means that crucially, my gods do not care for me. I have no sense of a loving mother goddess, a protecting father god. My gods are un-gendered beyond my own perception and understanding  of the old ancestral stories , they are just nature with their own purpose and intention, their own stories to tell. They inspire within me a deep devotion through their beauty, power and enormity, yet my devotion to them is not as one who submits or worships, it is as explorer and participant in the relationship and here again, we are reaching the territory of a whole other post.

There is so much here that I feel I have not given adequate space or explanation to I haven’t even touched upon polytheism, Druidry or Heathenry in any meaningful way.¬† My intention is simply to give a flavour of my vision of Animism and my religious practice upon which this blog is based. A foundation upon which to explore.

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Mother Night

Blessings of Mothernight, Modranicht, the longest darkest night of the year, and the deepest heart of the winter…

This is the time when many pagans honour our ancient mothers; those ancestors who birthed us through their own longest night of labour. Summoning all of their strength and courage they brought us slippery, wet and new into the world, just as many of us hold fast through the darkness of this night. We journey to find the tiny spark of the new cycle, the moment of inception, deep within ourselves at the moment of the solstice. This is a time of nothingness, stillness and peace. If we are able to stop and take the time to listen we find that the land has slowed to a stop, a moment of pause before the tide turns. Often at the solstice the earth is buried under a cloak of hoar frost, everything that can, sleeps. Underneath the bustle and hurry of the human world there is a deep stillness which permeates the very mud. This is what winter teaches us: Peace.

Yet for many, pagan and non, there is a deep uncertainty too. Will the winter ever end? Will the days begin to grow longer again, will the new sun be born? Here in Britain, the winter is hard and cold, the days short, the nights long. For our ancestors the daily chores of staying fed and warm enough would have been all consuming. We carry that memory of discomfort to varying degrees of consciousness, deep within our genetic memory. We remember what it is is like to fight for survival, to be cold, hungry. We fill this time of year with light and food, warmth and abundance, part in celebration for all that we have, that we are still alive. In part we do it to stave off the darkness and discomfort, our society’s fear of the dark, the unwillingness to release into it and all of it’s uncertainties. The idea that dark is bad and difficult and light is easy and good are limiting and unhelpful dualistic concepts that infuse much of the western consciousness, indeed much of paganism. So we turn on the fairy lights at the beginning of December as winter finds it’s depths, turn up the carols and the music as silence grows and eat too much as if to ensure we wont starve, cushioning ourselves from the world. We shout in the return of the new sun with bells and whistles, not realising in our rush to welcome it back, how tender, tiny and new that flickering spark is. How the tiniest breath could extinguish it, how much we need the stillness and nurture that the dark provides to become strong and viable in the new cycle. The world stays dark and quiet for a while yet, the coldest part is yet to come and it will be a long time before the lengthening days call the world to wake.

To live this time of year in relationship with the natural world, listening to what the gods of nature can teach us of the winter, rather than being swept up in the human current of excess, takes courage. To let go of the consumerism leaves many of us bereft, somehow not satisfied, unloved, hungry like something is missing…No piles of presents? At Christmas?! But there is much about winter that takes courage. Our labouring mothers gathered every scrap of resource that they had to walk the line between life and death to bring us into the world not knowing if they would survive the birth. By acknowledging and allowing ourselves to feel the deep uncertainties of winter, She brings us Her greatest gifts. Winter shows us where and what our own deepest resources are, strips away our dross and the unnecessary, strips us bare, as the frost strips the soil ready for the new seasons growth. That stripping back shows us what and who is really important. I shudder to think of the money (and environmental waste) I spent for many years on gifts that were unwrapped in a shower of pretty paper, only to be forgotten on the pile of rapidly accumulating junk, probably used once and then abandoned. Now, I buy or make useful and small tokens of affection for those I love the most, there are no huge piles of food. I cant bear the lights, the noise, the shopping. Even other pagans seem to think that’s a bit odd, cant understand that there could be celebration that is austere, beautiful in it’s simplicity.

This evening as I sit beside the fire, all of the electric lights in the house are off as I welcome the darkness. I find empathy with my ancestors who had no electricity and relied on the fire for warmth. I feel myself in awe of their courage and tenacity. It is inconvenient, awkward, I can’t see the keys to type well and cooking supper was interesting. But none of that is life threatening. I wonder, where do I fight for survival in my life, just as my ancestors did every day? Not many places if I’m honest. I fight to keep going in a challenging job, we struggle to pay the bills, but I have enough food and wood to be warm and fed. The winter makes me wonder where in my life I could cut back, releasing just a little more of the excess and the unnecessary to the frost, bringing me that one step closer to the survival line. Not through some sense of matyrdom or some strange need to make life as uncomfortable as possible just because it was for my ancestors. But because it is a useful exercise in distinguishing between need and greed, in finding balance in a world where we simply don’t have the resources to fulfil our every wish, where quite frankly, the less we use the better, for our own survival. For me there is deep satisfaction in having very little and celebrating anyway.

So it feels fitting in this time of darkness and uncertainty to gather my words and hurl them out into the public space of the internet for the first time. I wonder who will read them, who will be provoked, angered, bored, indifferent or inspired. Do I mind? Yes and no, I’m a sensitive soul really. What is the point? I’m not sure of that yet either other than to serve the gods who asked. The tiny spark of my new cycle is not yet kindled, not yet strong or sure, but I hope that at least some of what I write will be of use to someone.

Blessings of the Firelight.