I have been identifying myself as a new kind of animist for the past several years, but until recently I thought that I was alone in it. Then, I set up shop here online and was amazed to find kinfolk. Bioregional Animism, on tribe and through their blog, have done excellent work helping like-minded people connect with one another. I recently read the book Healing Beyond the Body in which author Larry Dossey refers to the “new animism.” Just yesterday I started a book by Graham Harvey, and he also refers to a “new animism.” And of course, Glen’s wonderful blog New Animism Info, is a digest of related blogs and websites, that caught my attention recently as well. All fine, fine things.
The fact that we are all independently coming up with this term reflects a growing cohort of animists rising up from the lifeways of the Dominator Culture. Where are we coming from? It could be that growing numbers of neo-pagans, polytheists, and revivalists of tribal religions are increasing in their awareness of the living world and finding a new identity in the word “animism.” Meanwhile, environmentalists, naturists, and other countercultural groups have become skeptical of the predominant world view, leading them to an open-minded search for new ways to understand the nonhumans and the meaning of a life lived in the body on the earth. Increasing communication between traditional animists and dominator people has also opened up new dialogs and raised awareness of animist possibilities.
But all of those are reasons that make sense. To hell with making sense! Here is what I believe: I believe that the trees and the other nohumans are pissed off and miserable about the wreck that humans are making of the earth. If we keep going like we have been, we’ll drag the whole carefully balanced Gaia-system down to dominator hell with us! So, they are desperately trying to reach out and get our attention. They are talking to us. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
Now, here we are, pink-skinned children of dominator cultures, hearing the voices of trees and watching the rocks looking back at us. What are we to do with this? The tribal animisms are not ours to claim. We must discover and enter fully into our own animist reality, and if the human species is to have any hope of fleshly salvation, we must work with the nonhumans to transform the dominator world in which we live into an animist reality. Yes, we do have a choice. And this is the project that has me so obsessed!
Making sense can hold us up, get in our way. I’m afraid of the academicians, even ones as sympathetic as Harvey, who write about the new animism using erudite language and footnotes, leaning heavily on studies of other, older animist cultures. It’s not about “relational ontology,” is it, this being awakened in the middle of the night by the stars? Speaking of respect for “persons” shows great concern for correct language, but it bogs me down in disclaimers and creates an inevitable distancing from my tree friends. Persons? I don’t call my lovers persons! I call them Sweetie! Honey! Beloved! The whole academic enterprise seeks acceptance from the dominator community, hoping to “prove” its contentions. It’s great as far as it goes. It may even be necessary and I humbly thank those who would honor animism old and new with their research, but its not my path.
If I sound defensive, be patient with me, please. It hasn’t been easy for folks like me, especially those of us who grew up in the 40s and 50s and 60s. We’ve struggled hard, swimming against the current of science, technology, monotheism, and public education, mired in the muck of the mundane dominator life, enduring ridicule and fearing for our own sanity. In fact, it seems to me that the sign of an authentic animist experience in a dominator slave like myself is the fear of insanity, because trees don’t talk and everybody knows it. To survive, we shut down and numb out. Or we join a fringe group where we can be accepted . . . new age crystal healers, anyone? . . . and even there, our experiences are labeled “trance-induced” or “metaphoric.” My own mother, a dedicated scientific-rationalist, scolded me so incessantly for “making things up” that I stopped trusting my own experience at all. Is the traffic light red or green? Am I hungry? Am I alive or is it all a dream? By the time I was eight years old, I no longer knew what was real and I became easy prey for those who would control me with their certainty. So, I’ve earned my years and my identity: I am a pink-skinned animist! This experience belongs to me, and no one can catalog it or dismiss it.
Let’s keep exploring our animist experiences in this blog. I invite you to share yours. Let’s talk particularly about the experience of animism in a dominator culture, in the here and now of cars, computers, and bad food. I want to be absolutely clear, though, that I write about my own experience and my own gods. I express my own conclusions and beliefs. On the other hand, I don’t deny you your experiences or gods or conclusions and I would find delight and rest in knowing that we have a great deal in common. I suspect now that there are many of us new animists in the world, hiding in shame in our pink skins, holing up among the neo-pagans and the anthropologists. Isn’t it time we found each other? Maybe someday we can meet at last and worship our Creator together, and dance as kinfolk with the trees, and cleanse ourselves naked together in living water.