We live in a relational universe. This is becoming a more accepted concept with people tracking synchronicities and experiences of random not-so-random occurrences. It is popular in new age circles as people claim “the universe is trying to tell me…” It is also popular in some of the new Christian theology around the personal meeting the transpersonal - influenced by the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, Raimon Panikkar, eloquently brought to today’s Christian consciousness by people like Cynthia Bourgeault Matthew Wright and Ilia Delio. From an animist perspective it would seem like belief in a relational universe would be re-affirming, but the “rub” is really when this relationality is generalized to a unified “universe” or “Christic” presence. This misses the exquisite point of multiplicity. Life around us is responding to us, not because of a unifying consciousness or energy or spirit, but because it is filled with individuality that is alive, breathing and ready to interact. By universalizing consciousness or spirit we are actually denigrating the beauty of this multiplicity. We are missing the point of creation and creativity.
And I know why we go for the “universality”. It is safer. If all is connected (and it is) and the underlying force of creation is love (which depending on your definition of love could be seen as a valid assumption), then why wade into the murky waters of the sovereignty of beings which on a human scale can sometimes look pretty scary? My answer to this is that getting into the murky waters is where the beauty of relationship comes alive. If I don’t even see a being, say a nature spirit, and all I see is a universal sense of spirit in the form of a tree, then I am missing out on a huge expression of my humanness with that tree spirit and experiencing a more layered nuance of who that tree spirit is. By universalizing we lose out on important aspects of the sacredness of the specific.
And we deny the validity of a lot of spiritual traditions. To deny the existence of the “old gods” like Orishas, Hindus gods or the Egyptian deities is to deny not only parts of the fabric of creation, but important parts of the collective. And often what gets denied becomes demonized. This becomes even more troubling when the parts of us that are in resonance with these parts of the collective become demonized. This can result in mental illness, self hatred, a lot of misunderstanding.
So by supporting the multiplicity of creation we are tending our psychic spaces. We are opening the door to greater creativity. We are embracing possibility. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to learn to navigate these spaces wisely… there is a lot that lives in these murky waters, even more so because most of us have not culturally tended to the waters for several thousands of years since breaking with animist practices. Not all is friend, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn it all to foe or spiritually bypass it to a more universal perspective.
I believe it is part of the gift of being human to be able to dance with the material existence of things as well as the spiritual. We are tuned into the specific and the collective in beautiful ways. We are designed in this way for a unique way of loving, a unique way of relating. Through animist ways of being with the world we are embracing the fullness of our potential. This has profound implications for our individual psyches and the collective, for our personal and societal impacts on ecology and social justice.
What the universe is really telling us is “listen” …”see me in all my multiplicity”. And what better gift to return to the universe than to embrace what you have been given through this small life and to do just that?
The history of white culture’s disconnection with the earth is based in the history of oppression, upheld by the Christian church, enlightenment ideals and imperialism. And even if we are moving away from this on a personal level, we come from ancestry that upheld this and so there is ancestral healing to be done. So if you are (or are descended from) a white Christian or if you are (or are descended from) a white secular materialist whose ideals are wrapped in science, or you live in an imperialist country, there is a reckoning needed.
There is a reckoning that needs to be made by Christians because of the history of the church - the doctrine of discovery, the witch burnings and the demonization of indigenous people, animism and pagans. If there is to be a reclamation of earth honoring ways and it does not not address this in a serious way, then there is a gap in the integrity of this work. Yes, connection to the earth is a birthright that no people, religion or animist practice “owns” but there is a deep and hurtful history here that cannot be ignored and those who held onto these earth honoring ways despite the persecution by the church need to be recognized as the church wakes up and looks to change. If you just try to Christianize earth based spirituality without recognizing the wisdom keepers or the harms done, then you are appropriating, colonizing, a further act of white supremacy.
There is even racism in the very popular and contemporary movement of connecting with “Wisdom traditions” as defined as “the contemplative traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Vedanta, Daoism, Sufism; and in the history of philosophy, as in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, which were Christianized in the Neo-Platonic schools in the early Church”... indigenous traditions, paganism and animism are not seen as wisdom traditions and yet they are the wisdom keepers of earth based spirituality.
Even the renewal of Celtic spirituality from a Christian perspective is appropriative (as are all of the Christian holy days which are based on pagan traditions). How can we look to these traditions for guidance as we work to reclaim this but do so in a way that honors them rather than just borrows or takes? It comes from first recognizing that these are the wisdom traditions when it comes to earth connection. And to recognize that Christianity burnt these wisdom keepers at the stake or colonized them. If we don’t recognize our participation in the genocide of the earth culture keepers then we are false in our attempts to reclaim this. The indigenous people who never lost this culture must be upheld first as our elders in this and their efforts to retain this culturally and fight against cultural genocide must be supported. This is not to create a fantasy of what it means to be indigenous, but rather a respect of the sovereignty of especially Native people in the Americas where treaties give them an important status a sovereign nations. If we are not supporting truth and reconciliation or actively asking our government to respect treaties and sovereignty of these people, then we are not honoring these wisdom keepers and our earth honoring efforts are self-serving at best. We must not only support their sovereignty or accept them as valid religions (often in religious conventions indigenous people and pagans are not included… not seen as a wisdom tradition), the fact that we come to this not only late but as part of a history of oppression must be reckoned with. Otherwise it is an appropriation just as the Christian church took over pagan holidays. It is essentially whitewashing. It is a further act of colonization and supremacy.
As for the secular scientific society, if you are coming to animism from outside any religious framework, then you too have a history of cultural oppression to reckon with. The enlightenment era defined who was considered to be more of a human and who was less and this became a foundation of racism across the world that said that anything “in the light” (ie white) was more evolved and anything in the dark (or darker skinned) was less evolved. We still see this embedded in systemic oppression and if you are not fighting against the active dismantling of this, you are upholding it. We even still see this in various new age and even enlightenment-oriented traditions where anything "high vibration" or "light" is seen as what one should be evolving towards or ascending to. Anything that is of the earth is meant to be evolved beyond or controlled for our benefit. This bleeds over into how we treat the earth as a resource rather than a living breathing collection of beings. And if you subscribe to a materialist view of the world there is no way to make “kin” of the beings, seen and unseen.
For many people, there isn't a strong identification with the Christian tradition or materialist ways of thinking. For these folks, their reckoning may come in the form of how they are implicitly supporting imperialist policies of the country they live in. The Roman expansion in Europe brought about a change to the earth-centered practices of white ancestors. All of the sudden the earth the people inhabited was changed to a resource to feed an empire. While the initial invasion did not require individuals to convert to a state religion (Christianity came to the Romans later than their first incursions into northern European lands), it did change their relationship to the land in that now it was to be used for Roman hegemony. Deforestation of Europe is cleanly marked by this invasion. Imperialism to this day is a continued tool of oppression of the earth and of people who live close to her. By feeding an economic system that devalues the earth and sees her only as a resource for consumerist desires or large industry, we are not living in kinship. These same engines of eco-destruction are the same systems of racial oppression. Systemic racism has been engrained in our political and economic systems based on legacies of power and control by elites. The same systems that devalue the earth and other-than-human beings are the same systems that devalue certain human beings be it by race or class.
Anti-racism and earth connection work go hand in hand. If this is not part of your practice, you are missing a critical element of culture change.
We are living in poisoned times. It is critical to name the poisoning, but the real important word is “living”. We have the challenge and the gift to respond to the catastrophe of our times with life. We have the choice of ignoring and propagating these disasters, of wilting under the pressure of it all, or of creatively meeting and moving beyond the challenges that face us. We are nature in her full glory of adaptation and ingenuity. We are life. We may have inherited poisoned land, but we can still live there. We may be numbed into accepting the ways that created the mess we are in and by doing so do continuing this disastrous path. But we are also the breath and stretch of our bodies who show us both the steadfast resources we have been given as well as the vulnerability of our predicament, which can ignite bold ingenuity if we embrace it.
We can easily name the challenges: climate change, loss of biodiversity, social inequities like racism, classism, sexism, a failing economic system, rampant consumerism, a political process that has been co-opted by corporations and the elite. What is sometimes more challenging is to see how life springs anew despite the momentum of the status quo which feels like it is taking us closer to extinction. Which will win, life or extinction? Really is up to us and how much energy we wish to put into the creativity of our response or supporting the ingenuity of other’s responses (or more powerfully yet, collective responses).
I’ve been pulled to set down these words not because I have a unique insight. Everything you will read here is influenced by the ideas and experiences of others. Quite honestly, that is the nature of creativity. It borrows. It shifts perspective, but sees the same material through lenses that have been used by others.
What I do offer is a perspective of our current world through the lens of a neuro-divergent and sexually-divergent white middle class woman with early-American English settler-colonial ancestry whose sensitivity to life has brought her to explore new ways of relating to her own mind and the world around her. I offer my experience and perspective as a prayer for a larger shift in consciousness. I offer it in hopes that some part of you will be compelled to join in on the work of tending life on this poisoned land. This tending is collective work, no one person can do it alone and in fact our individual efforts are useless without community as what the world is asking for is a societal shift. We are on the precipice and I hope you will join me in learning how to fly from there.
My thoughts on the path of deep animist relationship