Tag Archives: animism

Of writing and magic

Any act of writing can be a spell. Simply putting words into the world is an act of will, intended to cause change. It is a process that can change the person undertaking it, as well. I write things on this blog because I intend to cause change.

Sometimes I write in order to understand. I find it a powerful tool for processing. There have been many times when insights have come to me as I was writing, rather than having set out to write about insights I’d already had. Even when I think I know what I’m going to say, the process of writing often opens unexpected doors and allows something new to come through.

By this means, I can take ideas out of my thoughts and place them in your mind. Thanks to the additional magic of the internet, I can do that without necessarily knowing you. Written words travel freely through time and space, connecting us with people in ways that go far beyond what many of those writers could ever have imagined. I can sit at my computer and read in translation the first known novels from around the world – something I doubt those authors could have imagined would ever be possible.

Anything you can do through meditation, trance, visualisation or similar inner working, you can do by writing. It’s all about the kind of states your mind can enter and how you choose to explore that. For me, if I want to know about something, my best bet is to try and write about it. The headstates I sometimes enter when writing are much akin to those other, more obviously spiritual states. 

Much of my writing is deliberately constructed by me, in a conscious way. Much of what I do depends on knowledge, experience and years spent learning technical stuff and honing skills. However, every now and then, something else seeps in. Not always when I’m trying to court the numinous, sometimes when I’m being entirely silly, even. Some of my best animist writing is in Wherefore – which was written to be an amusing distraction during lockdown. 

Opening up to the flow of words and ideas always makes a space where something else is possible. Just occasionally, something else comes through that is more than I expected, and takes me to places I did not know I could go. Sometimes, the act of writing is one of being enchanted – not being the spell caster, but being the one on whom the spell is cast.

The Spirit in my Laptop

A guest post by Mabh Savage

I’ve just read Chris Allaun’s fascinating book, Otherworld: Ecstatic Witchcraft for the Spirits of the Land. It’s a great book, and a firm reminder that as an animist, I believe there is a spirit in everything. My animism is not exclusionary. I honour the spirits of the land, or try to, but I am aware of spirits in other things too. My favourite teacup. The pen I scribble my notes with. Even my laptop.

Animism and Technology

I think it’s very common to dismiss the possibility that things which aren’t “natural” are somehow excluded from animism. But natural is a strange word when we think about humanity. If we mean natural to means the state of things before humans got involved, then most areas of woodland are not natural – yet plenty of people feel a connection to them. Most fields and meadows aren’t truly natural, yet they veritably hum with life, from the tiniest aphid to the great, surging seas of grass.

To turn this idea on its head, everything is natural at some point. The keys I’m tapping on are made of plastic, which at some point was oil, which at some point was probably prehistoric trees or animals. It’s not too hyperbolic to say I’m tapping on dinosaur bones.

So, My Laptop Then…

How can such a beast be so ornery if not imbued with its own spirit? It’s not new, far from it, but it’s not ancient either. Yet it works to its own purpose, rarely caring what mine is. Sometimes it loads up immediately, bold and ready to face whatever tasks I input into it. Other days it is slow, sluggish, yet I can swear that nothing is different. I close the needless tabs and check the task manager; this technological beast is being contrary, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

At other times, it mirrors my moods. If I have brain fog, am I simply projecting that my laptop seems a little slower, a little less responsive? I guess its easy to say that I’m just seeing what I want to see; a reflection of myself in the technology I use most.

It would be easy, if it was just me. It is, most definitely, not. Others borrow my laptop, particularly for educational or social purposes. As the person who makes money with their brain and fingertips, I do own the best laptop in the house – and so it is frequently co-opted by the rest of the family.

Guess what. They tell me, that on days when I am feeling slow or moody, that the laptop seems to be just as cranky and uncooperative. As if the laptop has some kind of empathy; a connection we have forged through spending so, so much time together.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But I take note of my experiences, and I don’t ever discount my more outlandish conclusions, especially when they form an intrinsic part of the way I believe things work. So, the laptop is always placed gently, folded with a soothing, reassuring pat, and spoken to with respect. Except, of course, on the days when we are both decidedly low on resource and functionality.

Mabh Savage blogs at mabhsavage.com.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mabhsavage

Plus if you like Mabh’s work, you can support her and get unique rewards at Patreon.

Image copyright free via Unsplash.

Animism and urban landscapes

I live in a small town, and I’m conscious that much of my writing is nature-focused and I don’t talk much about urban Druidry. The majority of us are to some degree urban, and I think it’s important to explore the realities of being a Pagan in an urban context, and it’s something I’ll try to write about more often.

Yesterday I went from my home on the outskirts of town, to the centre. I used to be something I did a few times a week, or more.  Since the impact of the virus, I’ve not been into the town centre very often at all, and when I have, it has been very quiet. Stroud has a distinct character – an energy of its own and during lockdown the absence of that felt strange.  There is a land-energy to the town centre, but Stroud is most itself where the interactions occur between people and place. The mood on quiet days and at night has more in common with the busy days than it has with the atmosphere during lockdown.

Yesterday I passed by Lansdown Hall. It’s a building that looms large in my life. We did a Hopeless Maine exhibition in the gallery there a few years ago. I’ve performed on the stage during the book festival. My fortieth birthday party was there.  The Tai Chi class I went to was there. I’ve danced there many times. I also worked in the office for a while and have worked there in evenings on many occasions. I’ve been there for films and all kinds of community events. It is a beautiful building, and one I feel a deep connection with.

Lansdown Hall is still closed. I’ve never wanted to hug a building before. I’ve never previously felt the urge to press my cheek to the stone and tell a place how much I love it and how deeply I have missed it. I settled for putting my hand on the building and drawing less attention. It is a place that is distinctly itself and that I experience as an individual.

I have feelings about many of the buildings in town, but mostly that has to do with what I’ve done there or who I’ve spent time with. Lansdown Hall is different. It is a friend in its own right, and someone I miss spending time with as much as I’ve missed human friends in recent months. Someone I would like to hug. Hopefully there will be some future opportunity to be back in the hall on my own, able to talk to it, and to be with it.

As with human relationships, it’s not being able to do the things that define the relationship that is hardest. I have found out whose hugs I needed most and who I most need to sit down with at the same table.  I have learned things about where I need to be. The embrace of a building was not something I’d recognised before, but I know now. Perhaps I’ll go back at a quieter time and press my cheek to the door.

Writing my best animism

I’ve made an interesting discovery this week – I write my best animism when I’m not being serious. If I try and write serious spiritual fiction, or for that matter, certain kinds of non-fiction I feel uneasy and don’t reliably do a very good job. There are always those risks around ego and self importance, the fear of accidentally writing in ways that exclude rather than draw in.

I have a particular unease around giving people the impression I’m more spiritually adept than I really am. I’m an animist, but I don’t hear the voices of spirit in all things animate and inanimate around me. I’m not having big, important conversations with anything much.

However, when I stop trying to be sensible and open up to what might be interesting and amusing, I can write my animism in ways that I like. I could get into a deep philosophical wrangle about what this means, but, that would seem to defeat the object, so instead, here is a little bit of happily preposterous, not taking myself too seriously animism from the current Wherefore project – which is mostly fiction.

“There are yeasts who want to teach you the meaning of civilization and culture. Fungi want to talk to you about interconnectedness. The dried garlic wants a conversation with you about how you are mistreating the bacteria on your skin, and it also wants to chat with the people who live in your lower intestines and who are frankly much more spiritually advanced than you are.

The jam in your kitchen is waging a war for your soul against the influence of an edible foodlike substance made by a chemical company. There is something in your fridge that is trying to make contact with the elder race down the back of the cupboard. All of the eggs are dreaming about their past lives and there are a whole selection of magical beans waiting their turn to influence your understanding of reality.

That’s just your kitchen.”

You can follow Wherefore, in all its silliness on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/NimueBrown


Standing and Not Falling – a review

Presented as a workbook for those wanting a spiritual detox ahead of working magic, Standing and Not Falling is a text you could work through over 13 moons. The idea is to deal with the kinds of things that might get in the way of a magical practice, and pave the way for a deeper and more effective kind of sorcery. For anyone interested in serious magic, this is well worth a go.

I didn’t read it or work with the book in that way. I pick up this kind of book because it is always useful to research for the fiction. I’ve learned a lot that I can no doubt apply in my speculative writing. What I didn’t realise when I started reading the book, is how valuable it is as a philosophical text.

Lee Morgan has a great deal to say about how we navigate inside our own minds, how we perceive the world and relate to it, and how our thinking shapes our experiences. There’s a lot here about being embodied, about animism and relationships based on animist philosophy. There’s great content about ancestry, our relationship with the land, and how we deal with mainstream culture – and for that matter, how it deals with us. There’s a great deal to chew on. Much of it aligns with my own thinking, so that was pleasingly affirming, but at the same time, it’s a very different perspective on those familiar issues and it opened up a great deal of new territory for me.

I recommend that Druids pick up Standing and Not Falling to read as a philosophical text. It has a great deal to offer on those terms. Anyone interested in the bard path will also be interested in how the book is written – the crafting of it, the way language is deployed, the poetic qualities the author brings – these are all worthy of your attention and may well be a source of inspiration.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a magical text because it’s not my path. However, what I can say (having read a fair few magical books for research purposes) is that I’ve never seen anything like this before. There’s a world view here, and a way of relating to self, world and magic that, while it has some familiar elements, really isn’t like anything else I’ve run into. It’s well worth a look.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/standing-not-falling 

The Pragmatic Animist

I’m not much of an evangelist, but today I would like to persuade you to take an animist approach to life. Not necessarily to believe in animism, but to make the pragmatic decision to act as though you do.

Western humans have become far too prone to treating the world like a bunch of objects that exist for our convenience. We collectively treat the rest of life as resources to exploit. We don’t respect life, and we do not consider that other living things have any right to autonomy, or any feelings about their lives that might matter. The factory farmed animal in a tiny pen, turned into a food producing machine for humans, is a case in point.

Our human-centric view of the world is destroying the world we live in. To survive and thrive, we need to adopt more sustainable perspectives. This is where I think the case for pragmatic animism comes in. If you assume that everything around you could have ideas, intentions, preferences, feelings and so forth, it’s a lot harder to treat these individuals as objects and resources.

Here we simply sidestep the question of which living things have which kinds of thoughts, feelings and experiences. (I think this is the clever bit.) Reject that whole line of questioning. It is enough to consider that anything else you are dealing with could be aware and purposeful. Currently we are most willing to give care and rights to things we see as most like us – although not reliably then. We prioritise thinking and feeling in other beings even though we have little scope to measure or understand it.

Whether we can prove that something non-human thinks and feels is less important than how we behave if we adopt the idea that thinking and feeling are options. If you treat everything as though it exists in its own right and does not exist purely to answer some need of yours, you treat everything with greater respect. The pragmatic animist has reasons to seek co-operative solutions that serve life, not merely human life. It creates a context for not putting human wants centre stage all the time.

It’s a curious irony that our survival as a species won’t depend – as we’ve long imagined – on our out-competing everything else, but on our ability to support and nurture life. Survival of the fittest, going forwards, will not be about the human conquest of the natural world, but our ability to learn to live in balance, harmony and peacefully, with more care and respect.

The trouble with animism

This is a history of ideas thing, I have nothing negative to say about animism at all, just to be clear. The trouble with animism is the way it seems to be classified in a particular kind of story about human progress. Druidry and the Ancestors has a lot of material in it about the kinds of stories we invent about history. This isn’t in the book, but is an example of how problematic those stories can be.

I’m currently reading K.M Sen’s book on Hinduism – which is fascinating, but includes as a statement of fact the idea that primitive people have primitive, animist beliefs and that advancing civilization goes with more sophisticated polytheism, moving towards monotheism. It’s not a new theory, I have seen it other places. I’m pretty sure it’s in The Golden Bough, and that it goes with more 19th century attitudes to ‘primitive’ people and ‘primitive’ belief. (Pile in if you know more than me or have your sources to hand, please!)

This is in essence a story about progress, in which moving towards ever more complicated ways of living is seen as a good thing. It’s a whole line of thinking that exists to prop up the status quo, to let us tell ourselves how much better we are than people of ages past, and of course ‘primitive’ people whose land we would like to appropriate. Progress theory is pretty much inherent in colonial attitudes and is underpinned by ideas about economic growth being an unquestionable good, industrialisation being an unquestionable good, and monotheism being also an unquestionable good.

Except that nothing works like that anyway. Hinduism seems to be a fine example of a complex dance between polytheism and monotheism, including turns with agnosticism and materialism. Once you get to a great big monotheistic belief then it’s very easy to go pantheistic. The one big all powerful all present God, is everywhere! So God is in everything. So everything has spirit, and suddenly you’ve gone round a great big loop and come back to animism again. It’s not a line of progress, it’s a circle, or a spiral, or a big mush of interconnected things, depending on who you are and how you do it. The only way you get a line is if you take atheism as some sort of exit trajectory. Then what you get is the idea that we only have what exists materially. At which point treasuring and honouring those material realities can start to make a lot of sense. At which point…yes… you’ve spotted the punch line.

The trouble with animism is what happens when you try and talk about it using the outmoded language of people with bloody stupid ideas and a very narrow view of the world. If you engage with people who use the language of separation and difference, mind body dualism, matter and spirit, us and them, the object and the subject, and you talk on their terms, you talk about animism in a language that by its nature, deconstructs animism and makes a nonsense of it. It can be tempting to want those mainstream languages of science, reason and philosophy, except that they make you fit. Which for animism, means make you into small, dysfunctional pieces of wrong.

Which leaves me wondering quite what we do with that.