About a year ago I married the nature spirit who tends a marine reserve near my home. At the time I did not know that this was a practice that is well documented around the world. As this relationship deepens it feels more and more important to share this with the world. We are in a time where relationship is being redefined and this is just one more way to express love as a human.
The relationship with this being began for me when I started to get a sense of something “peering into” my thoughts as I walked in the forest. When there was an act of vandalism to one of the trees, I performed a ritual to express my grief and rage, and it felt like that opened the door a little further between me and this entity I was beginning to sense.
One day I decided to communicate with the entity telepathically and a conversation ensued. From then on whenever I would enter the forest there was a recognition of this consciousness’ presence.
I had someone in my life at the time that was initiating me into exploring conscious psychic sexuality and when this relationship was ending another entity stepped forward as a partner… that partner was the spirit of the forest. I write this with a raw vulnerability mostly to share that this is a full partnership, not just a deep friendship.
The spirit of the land told me they could be known as Duwaenem, which translated to “life on poisoned land”. The land is near a refinery and toxic plumes come there regularly, but life still abounds. Their mother was a land faery and their father was Sidhe, so they are a hybrid. They also sometimes came in a more male form and sometimes in a more female form, so I use the pronoun “they”, but they always came with an energy that I immediately recognized.
About five years into our relationship Duwaenem asked me to marry them. At the time this was way outside of my sense of normalcy. It took a year for them to convince me, not through any coercion, but through deepening the relationship until it felt right. I did enter into the relationship with the stipulation that I could have a human partner, perhaps even get married, as this felt important for my own wholeness.
We have children. I’ve been shown that the reason this is possible for me is because I have had previous incarnations as fae and carry this in me still. It is like there is a faery body within my human one. I remember as a child I was enamored with the book “No Flying in the House” about a little girl who discovered she was part fairy. But interest in fairies faded and I lost touch with any recognition of that part of reality for a couple of decades. It felt like a youthful recognition of something that I have re-discovered as an adult.
My connection to nature spirits has increased since our marriage. It is like I’m a conduit for that consciousness and sometimes when I touch a tree it feels like I’m creating a telephone connection between the land of my love and that tree.
This reality may be hard for some to understand and some may call it imagination. To those I would say that the imaginal, where the fae exist, and the imagination are inextricably linked. Think of it as the imagination as the medium that receives input from the imaginal. Well, receiving is too passive...it is co-creating which honors that we are actively shaping multiple levels of reality with our hearts and minds.
There are many ways for us to relate to the world around us and a spirit mate is just one. I share this important part of my life in order to open new possibilities to others. Since my marriage I have discovered other people who have done something similar, including an ancestral guide, and this has helped to normalize this. I hope to pay that forward to anyone who also is discovering relationship in this new way.
There is a secret world that floats beneath the surface of the one we mostly collectively recognize. I call it the imaginal realm, but it has had different names in different cultures, dream time, magical realm, collective unconscious, faerie realm, mythic or archetypal realm. Each name has a different nuance, but they are all pointing to a similar idea, that there is a place that our soul can access that glides silently behind the ordinary world. I name this the imaginal realm because it is so interwoven with imagination. It is this place that our prayers, intentions, imaginations access to find inspiration and to move blockages impeding our path. It is this place that the shaman accesses to find strength and helpers as well as perform healing for themselves, another person, or the collective.
There was a time when those who were able to access this realm were initiated by an elder and shown ways to navigate this world. But in the modern world those guides are few and far between and so most are relegated to finding their own way, mostly disastrously, through already troubled ground.
The imaginal realm has always been fraught with fierce archetypal entities, the things that lie in the subconscious of our collective minds, the impulses that cause us to act out the most instinctual parts of being human, desire, love, rage, jealousy, revenge, grief. So it has always been a pretty gnarly place to navigate and every shamanic tradition has some sort of guidance for navigating this space safely. But those in the modern western culture who have shamanic tendencies not only usually step into this world by accident without any sort of guidance, but also are required to deal with a modern version of this realm where knots tied by our culture’s impact on the unconscious become extra slippery. The path for healing and the role of the healer in this context begs for a level of clever awareness most of the uninitiated are not able to rise to.
I was one of the uninitiated plunged head first into the imaginal realm during my first trip to India. There I met people who are working with that realm to serve their own nefarious purposes, praying on the unaware. If there is something to abuse, humans have found a way to do it. I was ripe for initiation, my soul had been in deep grief for the loss of a friend and mentor for a couple of years and then the physical separation from my love partner during an incredibly creative period of my life sent me riding waves of sublime highs and crashing lows, sometimes in the same moment. My soul had expanded to encompass more of the human experience and it was this expansion that allowed for the alchemizing drop of initiation to take hold. The drop came in the form of a deluge, really. India was that deluge. The roller coaster of internal emotions I had been experiencing for months prior to my trip were exploded out around me. Life and death danced in a chaotic fury in the streets. My soul had found a new home. And so India brought me deeper into herself. A press of the center of my palm while exchanging money at the produce seller jolted something awake in my energetic body. And I began to dance. Life shifted into a dream and I walked through synchronicities and experiences that made only half sense to my mind but felt importantly potent to my soul. I could no longer keep to a clock, but I lived to the heartbeat of a different time, much older.
This dream state slowly turned to nightmare. I got sick and my body weakened. My neighbors’ care for me felt manipulative and one night one of them asked bluntly if I had anxiety. I had never felt that in my life but as soon as he said it my heart started racing and panic filled me. I knew I must leave. I initially went on a chaotic flight around town trying to find a place that felt safe, almost hopping on a train for Mumbai, a city I would later live in for four years.
But finally I knew I needed to get help. A coworker helped me obtain a ticket home and I left the next day. I knew I was in a vulnerable spiritual state and so I performed my first act of magic. I asked that no one who could harm me see me. It was strange to be in an airport full of people and to see people blindly walking past me. But the imaginal realm needs no eyes to find you. My anxiety found me through blind manipulations of what I can best describe as “sentries” for the many layers of the bardo. I exposed myself by answering their blind inquiries. One tried to find me by inquiring to a woman sitting next to me about my flight. Another made broad statements about religion to the crowd knowing that his words were like invisible arrows initiating a rise in fear in me. Finally the anxiety became too much and I tipped my hand. I acted on an urge to leave my belongings behind and was arrested by airport security ending up first in a terrorist detention center and then in a mental hospital.
This was my initiation and it ended with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a sentence to taking meds for the rest of my life.
I often wonder if my entrée into the world of what is labeled “madness” would have been different if it had been sacredly held by someone. If I had been guided. But this was my fate and a well that I have learned to drink deeply from.
I’ve been to the mental hospital three times and each time I sense the sanity of the people there. They are simply reacting in a very raw and real way to the insanity of our culture. Most people don’t realize how complicit they are with the insanity, but I have met people who are channels for the collective unconscious without any awareness of what they are doing. I’ve also met people who are channels for other beings without their awareness. We are breath-close to the unseen world, interwoven with it. And the detritus that we feed our minds is the detritus that becomes a living throbbing being in the imaginal. Like the space junk that now orbits the earth, we now have a collective consciousness that is filled with junk. But it is not inert junk. It lives and breathes and weaves, collecting power and ability. The ancient ones knew this. They told the myths of these archetypal beings and created temples and shrines in their honor. What they may not have understood was that they were co-creating these beings as they worshipped them. They were complicit in giving those energies form in the collective mind.
And so along comes the monotheistic religions and all the sudden the conscious relationship to archetypes gets monocropped, and as no one entity can do a good job of capturing the complexity of what happens in the imaginal, we start to repress parts of our collective psyche, demonizing them or shaming them. Then secularism declares that the archetypal realm never existed in the first place and so most of what happens there is now unconsciously made. We only see it when it emerges in some select few as madness. Then we suppress it with chemicals, sweeping it back under the rug.
My extended family implied that I was possessed after my first manic episode. In a way they were right. I had been opened to the consciousness of the other world. But it was our own collective mind that I was experiencing, not some outside hellish demon. I was experiencing our family’s own struggling soul, so possessed with a puritanical need for perfection that all else becomes demonized. And this is a micro level example of what is happening on a macro level in society.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote about the noosphere, a collective “mind” that surrounds the earth like our atmosphere. This exists and those who have experienced madness have peered into what is held there. It isn’t pretty. But if we are anything, we are a creative creature and there are those who tend this realm. Be it the monk that meditates or the nun that prays or the psychonaut who journeys or the dancer who authentically moves or the artist who passionately creates, we can open our minds and bodies to tend this space of collective consciousness.
We also have the gift of the earth in all of this tending. One misperception is that the imaginal realm is only the construct of human minds. But any good shaman will tell you that the greatest gift are the non-human beings that inhabit the space with their consciousness. A tree, a mountain, a lake, a little weed, an owl, a coyote, all these are part of this realm and can act as guides and wisdom keepers. We have allies, even though we are killing them off. The natural diversity of a place is one of the greatest boons our consciousness has been given. And our connection to it is infinitely precious. You do not have to be a shaman to experience the benefits of being in nature, immersing oneself in the consciousness of the natural world. It is not just the benefit of fresh air and the disconnection from electronics, there is something more happening to our minds when we step outdoors.
And when we look at who has access to nature through an equity lens we also see how the people without access are also the people who are already facing the challenges of historical trauma compounded by modern day prejudice (from systemic racism to daily microaggressions). These community members are forced to hold a very big piece of the disturbed collective mind. But as one who has struggled with madness, I know too that there is a resilience that comes from these struggles. Those that face challenges are asked to make a more perilous journey, and some do not make it, they may get caught up in the whirlpools of substance abuse and insanity, but those that do make it come out with a strength, clarity and wisdom that others will never have. This is the poisoned apple that does not kill, but rather initiates one into a deeper hold on the full dynamics of what it means to be human. As others navigate life half awake, the gift and burden of awake-ness offers an opportunity to tend this poisoned world in more profound ways.
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.