Animist Blog Carnival – Animism & Religion

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My new article on Heathen Druidry has been included in this month’s Animist Blog Carnival on Religion. This month Heather of Eaarth Animist is hosting.

My article can be found here

I hope you enjoy the fantastic work that has gone into this month’s Carnival.

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Place Magic

This month one of my posts has been included in the wonderful Animists Blog Carnival otherwise known as the ABC. This month it is entitled, Place Magic and is hosted by Heather at Adventures in Animism. There are loads of great articles to delve into, a kind of online magazine from animists around the world and hosted by a different blog each month. Enjoy!

Remembering the Sun

I look up from the keyboard as the shaft of late afternoon sunlight slants through the window and hits the screen of my computer, blinding it. Irritated, with a teaching session to plan, an article to write and one of my mothers threatening to go into labour, I sigh and move across the sofa as far as the lead on my laptop will let me. It allows me about 10 minutes work before the ray of sunlight again moves across my vision. Annoyed now; “I don’t have time for this!”, I jump up to move chairs, pulling the lead out accidentally as I go. My laptop flicks off and I lose the last half hour’s worth of work. I slide onto the floor wondering whether to laugh or cry in frustration. “Slow down, Priestess”, She smiles, languid from the corner of the room, all amber gold hair and a dress as grey as the stormy sea, She smells of the world outside, that I have so far cocooned myself away from for the day; “there’s time… look”. She indicates out of the window and across the field where the lazy afternoon breeze rustles the grasses in the meadow, “no rush”. I frown, I am about to retort that I don’t have time for this either, but she jokingly blows the paper I was working on across the floor. ‘Ok, enough!’ I laugh, forgetting my need to be hassled and serious. I pick up my phone, pull on my boots and head out to the pond in the meadow below. By the time I reach the gate, the sun is warm on my skin and the breeze ruffles my hair, I wonder at how I could have found it an intrusion not five minutes before. 

Reading back over my last post on sacrifice, I realise just how limited a blog post is, and just how it is almost impossible to do a subject justice in what really just amounts to a short article, usually of around 1500 words or less. It is inevitable that at some point, the writer will have to identify what their readers will understand and what deserves more full an explanation, making the decision about what to leave out more than what to leave in. Sometimes we make the right assumptions and sometimes we make the wrong ones. Either way, we have to chose what is the most pertinent and relevant otherwise we end up writing a book.

Having read today’s latest posts on the Sacrifice discussion, I realised that for those who don’t know me or my craft well, discussing the idea that something can be ‘made sacred’ might seem like I have disappeared off on an unfortunate dualistic tangent. The idea that a being (I prefer the word ‘being’ to ‘thing’) can be designated sacred or even mundane in its nature is about as at odds with animist thinking as it’s possible to be unless of course we understand that this is entirely about our perspective rather than the actuality.

At the heart of Animism, lies the experience that the world, every tiny speck of it is animate, alive, to some extent conscious of itself. This is not the simplistic perspective that is often trotted out as animism, that ‘everything has spirit’ for this is dualistic in itself, it is a language which belies a belief in spirit on one hand and matter on the other as if the two can be separated. No, this is the understanding that matter cannot exist without the humming spirit of intention, that it is this intention in itself, which forms the skeleton upon which all matter is built. To the animist, everything is sacred because everything has purpose, a sense of self, an individual ‘ishness’, a wish to be, a value and a place in the world.

So working from this principle that all is sacred, how do I then come to the understanding that to sacrifice is the art, for I do believe it is that, of making sacred? Simply, that as humans, it is impossible to live in a state where we are experiencing all to be sacred all of the time. We bumble through life, consuming without thought, swearing at the idiot who cut us up on the motorway, stressed, irritated, hurt, afraid wounded. It is hard to acknowledge any of these things as sacred, let alone understand their purpose or hear their intention, their own stories, or why something behaves as it does. It is just too difficult unless we take the time to stop and listen, paying just one or two things our full attention for a while, meditate if you like, on the relationship. For me it is my relationship with something that allows me to understand it as sacred in a very real and tangible sense and not just a theoretical one. The more difficult a situation or thing, the more important that quiet and considered meditative attention becomes.

Take the sun, that’s an easy one. As I found today, it was easy to forget its sanctity, swept up in the moment of ‘too much to do and too little time’ it became an irritation preventing my work. I forgot how often I had danced in it, lay out and sunbathed in it, thanked it for growing the beans, waking the hedgerows and evaporating water off the sea to make rain. My Goddess, of course, reminds me to slow down and take a moment to remember, pushing me off and outside to find it and rekindle my relationship, to once again find its sanctity.

Sacrifice is the same, it is finding or remembering something’s value and worth to us. Or taking something that already means so very much and recognising it, and it’s intention, purpose, individuality as sacred. To the point where we understand we cannot own it. Yet the act of sacrifice is about more than that, intrinsic within it’s meaning is the act of giving up or letting it go. It is about saying to our gods, ‘this is so big and so important, I don’t want to ever forget how sacred it is, please help me remember’. Or ‘I love you so much, this is the biggest thing I have, please take it as a symbol of my devotion’. Devotion is not about imagining that the gods care for us, it’s about not minding and loving them anyway. If we let something go, return it to the keeping of the gods, we allow it to be itself, in its own intention and ‘ishness’ no longer hampered by our need or perceptions, but shared with the world to become what it will. This allows us to consciously and permanently make it sacred so that we don’t forget. We make a sacred vow which means that it cannot be taken back without consequence, there is no slipping out of sacred relationship.

Of course I cant sacrifice the Sun, but I could sacrifice suncream (not only made by big pharma, sold by large corporations, with the products of the oil industry – already a good reason) but in not protecting my skin from the sun, I am forced to remember its power. I cant ever take it for granted lest it burn me to a frazzle and with my red hair and fair skin, that’s fairly likely. 17 years ago, my vows not to eat meat began as a sacrifice, an offering to the power that is life. It was really hard and although I knew I needed to, I didn’t want to. Sacrificing meat was about remembering that all life is sacred and capable of suffering and choosing not to be a part of that wherever possible. I didn’t need it to live, so why take a life? It seemed pure selfishness. Now it is second nature, the sense of the cow or the sheep as a being, filled with life and purpose and sentience is utterly sacred to me. If I had simply made the decision to be vegetarian, I could take that back anytime I wanted, but the fact that it is a sacrifice to the gods, sacred, reminds me every day not only of why I choose not to eat meat but also of my devotion to my gods. Apologies to those uncomfortable by the vegetarian polemic, but it’s a good example of sacred vows and the sacrifices that often accompany them. For me it was about saying ‘no matter how busy or forgetful I am, I will always remember and have time for this.”

Ultimately, sacrifice, is about learning to live in a sacred way. Understanding that we cannot perceive the world as all sacred all of the time. But it is about placing the markers and sign posts along the way to help us remember, as often as possible, that it is.


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.