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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9 thoughts on “The Animist’s Craft

  1. William Melnyk says:

    Beautifully and wisely written, I think. The interesting thing is that this form of ‘religion’ is not only primitive, but also representative of a high stage of evolution of human awareness. Anthropomorphic expressions of religion can be beautiful as well as violent, But this, above, is what all religion will be when we all grow up.

  2. Thanks, Bill. Praise indeed.

  3. ellenwaff says:

    This is much more closely related to my own practice of ‘craft’ than any currently used terms can express. Thank you. I always remember Ursula LeGuin’s “Wizard of Earthsea” trilogy, when Ged, the budding wizard must learn to “not do”!

  4. autumnbarlow says:

    That expresses some of the feelings I’ve been groping towards for, ugh, decades. I *know* by some unexpressable feeling that there is *something* in *all* beyond words and have never connected with any idea of actual deity so it’s always been a struggle to even talk to people about how I perceive things. But you have clarified some of what I’m thinking about, taken me maybe one step further – somewhere.

  5. Slayer says:

    Love it Red, well done for putting it down. D xx

  6. Hello, stranger. Lovely writing. It’s nice to see that those things we found similar in the past are still similar today. Can’t wait to read more. xox

  7. alys says:

    Well put. I too am an animist and entered it so on last year’s census.

  8. Heather Awen says:

    Reblogged this on heather awen archives and commented:
    Always loved this….

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