What does it mean to be an animist in today’s world? Druid Emma Restall Orr describes animism as that which acknowledges the inherent value in all things. This description, for me, is the best offered so far.
Many people can see animism as a throw-back to times when people were not so intelligent; the cavemen who believed in spirits imbuing inanimate objects. What I would offer is a redefinition of inanimate for, in my worldview, nothing could be inanimate.
How is this so? Well, I’m not a physicist however I’m pretty sure that everything is composed of atoms that are constantly moving (atomic theory). Ancient philosopher Heraclitus theorised this yonks ago, claiming that everything is in a state of flux. Therefore, how could anything be inanimate? Most people, when considering the word inanimate, seem to think of things that don’t move, that aren’t “alive”.
So how does the dictionary define inanimate? There are a few: 1.not animate; lifeless. 2.spiritless; sluggish; dull. Synonyms: inorganic, vegetable, mineral; inert, dead. 2. inactive, dormant, torpid. Considering these descriptions, we must also consider the word “alive”. Oxford English dictionary describes it as 1.(of a person, animal, or plant) living, not dead; 2. continuing in existence or use. Not very helpful, is it? Animate is something that is not lifeless, and alive is something that is not dead. So what is dead then?
I could go on. Is the desk that my computer on dead? When did it cease to live? It is still in existence and continuing in existence and use, as the OED states something that is alive does. The only change has been in the form of the matter. When someone dies, they change through the processes of decay, returning to the earth. So have they truly died, or merely changed form?
If we cannot define what is alive and what is dead, what is animate and what is inanimate, then in essence everything should be treated equally. With such loose terms we cannot and should not push aside what we do not fully comprehend. Yet every single day millions of people do so, declaring that something is merely a tool, a resource, something to be used for their personal benefit. The inherent value in something is in relation to its usefulness. Again, usefulness is such a broad and subjective term.
If the oceans are merely a resource, if a chicken is only a resource, then it loses its inherent value in the fact of it simply being. We can then abuse it to our own purpose – mostly selfishness and greed. We are able to pollute the seas because we no longer respect them. We cage hens and kill them once their usefulness in egg-production is up, or dairy cows when they have “dried up”. They no longer have any value.
Animism honours each and every thing for what it is, whether it is bird or bee, human or cat, tree or rock, mountain or lake. Each thing is made up of millions of other things. Each individual thing on this planet contains parts of other things. Not only is everything inherent in its own being and value, but everything is interconnected.
Everything is made up of nothing – the essential building blocks of everything is nothing, if we go deeper in physics. In this, we are all connected. We are all made up of things that are constantly in motion – energy always moving and creating different forms that we recognise as sibling, house, lorry. For me, this blows my mind.
So does this mean that I need to bow down and worship the lorry that takes away our recycling? Well, no, not really, though it’s an interesting concept. Many pagans who also are animists have an apprehension or dislike for bowing down to anyone – but that is a separate issue. I have no problem in bowing to my gods. We then have to define what constitutes deity. Again, I digress.
Recognising the inherent value of everything does not mean worshipping it. So, in seeing that the blackbird is energy taken form as a black-feathered bird with glorious song, I can see its inherent beauty and value. But what of things we do not consider to be beautiful? I would posit that as beauty is so subjective, there can again be no limits on value. Is a virus beautiful? For me personally, I think it is a remarkable thing. For someone who is dying from one, they may not see it in such a light.
Animism today is not walking around believing that the Moon is a goddess (though it may be for some, to each their own). It sees the inherent value of the moon and acknowledges it. We can honour as deity what the moon does to our planet, to ourselves. We can attach godlike qualities to these phenomena, creating a relationship with it through seeing them as archetypes. We can lose the whole archetype consideration altogether and think of gods as things that can kill. Deity has far too many definitions and is again so subjective. It can be hard to have a relationship with something as vast as a mountain, so we create gods that we can relate to on a human level. It is difficult to have a relationship with an abstract, such as love, or anger. We relate to these as gods when we see the value of them and how they affect our lives. The thunderstorm is simply a thunderstorm, yet it is also a wondrous coming together of energies that can change our lives forever.
In Druidry, we often hear the term “the song”. This is a poetic phrase to mean the energy and quality of a certain thing, whether it is the song of the wind through the leaves, or of the cat hunting in the backyard. It is the coming together of energies creating something that has its own inherent value simply by its matter of being. In animism, the song is what defines something as different from other things.
Through animism today, we can learn to create better relationships with the world around us. We learn of compassion and understanding, of differences and similarities. We learn a new sense of gratitude and wonder. In my opinion, these things are not childlike or primitive, but the essential parts of being an evolved being.
This blog post is my contribution to The Animists Carnival: http://lifthrasirsuccess.wordpress.com/animist-blog-carnival/
(This month, blog Eaarth Animist is the host)