Thursday, April 21, 2011

We are all animals

This girl tells the truth. Look at her! Skin and bone and blood, muscles and mammary glands, hair and fur. This is a mammal if I ever saw one. She's an animal and so are you.

The first principal of animism is that we humans are animals. We are also spirits. Other mammals are also both animals and spirits. We tend to think of animism as a belief in spirits, and that's a big part of the anthropological definition of animism, but animists don't believe in disembodied spirits. We believe in embodied spirits. It's all material. It's all spiritual. That's why the stone can be intelligent. It has soul.

Separating matter and spirit, that's the mistake most people make. We think that we're either truly-animal (so say the scientists) or truly-spirit (say so the religionists). We only have these two choices available to us if we hope to find a niche in the contemporary dominator world, but it's a false choice.

It wouldn't be such an awful choice if it didn't damage us so much. In fact, the religious disgust with the flesh and desire to be rid of it is a source of great suffering among humans. We hold the flesh cheap. We bomb it, feed it plastic and pollution, reject its pleasures and hide it in shame. The scientific view that we're animals only, and that our intelligence is an epiphenomenon of chemical activity in the brain, and that there is no immortal soul is sad, but not so harmful. It can make us careless with one another, though. We may confuse people and things.

Go around for a day with awareness: we are all animals under our clothes. Look, you work with animals, eat with animals, there are animals running the cash registers and driving the automobiles. Oh, what glorious flesh!


Aron said...

I think there's a lot of interesting language games in the two points you've made. Both by being "animal" in terms of seeing ourselves as fleshy and part of the here an now as well as seeing all beings as being 'animated', alive and having their own awareness of the world.

However, I keep running into the 'otherworldly' aspects of talking about spirit that strikes me as an appeal to the supernatural world that I just don't abide. Can we be animists yet not believe in the supernatural world? Not a question I plan on letting anyone but me to answer, just I thought I'd mention, here. For me, spirits come across as metaphors to expand our awareness of other beings and their capacities in the more-than-human realms.

puny human said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Aron. The word "spirit" can be a stumbling block. How shall we refer to the animating force? How do we understand the nonhuman and morethanhuman beings?

I suspect that the discomfort many people feel with what's labeled as the "supernatural" is that very definition of not-natural. What about if that which we can't easily see with our eyes or our machines is still natural and real? Perhaps we could call it "differently-bodied?" LOL!

You see, I would agree with you that there's no transcendent disembodied spiritual realm. All things are material, all things are animate. Gosh, it's hard to talk about with our limited vocabulary and limited cultural reality.
Best wishes,

Aron said...

David Abram does a pretty good job with some of this in his book, Spell of the Sensuous with his more-than-humans realms, etc. but there are other older traditions I also pay attention to for wisdom from animistic perspectives. I've distanced myself a bit from the word "shamanism" as well, because although I'd like to do shamanic things, I want to avoid being a "plastic shaman". I'd prefer admitting where I have issues and still embrace spirits.