Sunday, July 10, 2011

An Animist Practice

Heather has been asking about my animist practice. That is, “What do I do that characterizes and distinguishes an animist life?” I’d like to take several posts to explore the question, and I’ll begin with general concepts before describing particular practices.

Animist practice arises from an ongoing relationship with the Land-On-Which-We-Walk and the other nonhuman people around us. At bottom, it’s simply a way of living fully and graciously in the body on the earth. Traditional animist practices may have become habitual over time as groups of people discovered what worked to thrive in their environments, but traditional rituals and behaviors were not written in stone—they are not written at all—and they were sustained because they worked, not because they were commanded by a god or by the force of tradition alone. Animist practice, therefore, is not something one can learn about from a book, which at best is merely a snapshot of a particular practice in a particular time and place. Nor can it be learned from a “wise elder” or shaman. Animist practice, to be alive and potent, must emerge naturally from an individual’s or group’s ongoing experiences and relationships. Like all things in an animist reality, our practices are alive, and to be alive means growing, changing, dying and being reborn.

So, the question properly asked is, “What animist practices have I developed through my experiences and relationships?”

A key experience that informs any person's practice is his or her own traditions, the practices within which one has grown up. I’ve been influenced by my ancestors, of course, and I don’t claim any tradition besides my own. In some ways, my Jewish tradition is rich with nonhuman associations, the shaking of the lulav and the smelling of the etrog, the sensual rituals of Shabbos, the rhythm of sowing and reaping. In other ways, it's been singularly dissociated from the land. One thing is for sure: the Jewish attention to detail, our habitual awareness of the greater-than-human, constant gratitude, and sacralization of everyday life has left its mark on my practice. If you would develop an animist practice, I would encourage you to study the traditions of your own ancestors as they relate to the Land-On-Which-They-Walked as well as their culture, or ways of being in the real earth-world.

Next post, we can dive into particular practices and the seeds from which they've grown.

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