Posts Tagged ‘animism’

Becoming Animal

As we humans are spending more and more time entranced by our artefacts, caught up in the dazzle of the digital screen, it enables us not to notice, not to feel what’s really going on in the body’s world.

If we were to really turn our gaze toward the real and its wonder, open our senses back up, it would be too painful. So we hang out in those more virtual spaces and really lock the doors, and close ourselves in ever more thoroughly into that circuit of exchange with these mirrors of our own invention.

Becoming Animal

the North American premiere

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Professor Fergus Kelly’s (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies) presentation on Early Irish Charms for Animals came with an extensive reference handout.  Because the two keynote speakers had run over time, Prof. Kelly sped through his offering.  I would have enjoyed hearing more from this distinguished scholar, but I am thankful to have his list of sources.

The thrust of the presentation concerned the narrative of a hunter-gatherer people, transitioning and transitioned to a life dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry.  Where once the herd animals had been robust in size and number, with domestication, their physical size and numbers were reduced.  This necessarily increased concern over disease, which was directly linked to domestication.

This new concern can be seen in the highly significant burden placed upon local Kings, which tied the health of the land and animal population to the King’s justice, as well as the compensation an animal healer was entitled to, as outlined in the law tracts (1/4 of the wound price).  It is from this concern that the use of animal charms arises.

Language of the Literary Sources:

Seirthech, a disese of horses (seir ‘heel, hock’)

Sinech, a disease of cattle, perhaps ‘cow-pox’ (sine, ‘teat’)

Conach ‘rabies’ (disease affecting dogs, cattle, pigs, poultry, etc.), derivative of cú, con ‘dog’

Liaig ‘animal doctor’

gono míl, orgo míl, marbu míl  “I would the worm, I strike the worm, I kill the worm”

Milliud ‘destruction, bewitching’

mart leicter la sruth .i. ar g(l)einntlecht leicter ‘an animal which was swept away in a stream, i.e. it is swept away by sorcery with g(l)einntlecht being associated with paganism

mimir do cor do coin ‘giving a bad morsel to a dog’; froma uptha dus inbud amainsi: lethdiri ind, uair ni fo fath narbtha .i. fromad felmais .i. fromad na pisoc, anfot indethbiri he ‘trying out the spell to find out whether it is magic: half penalty-fine for that, because it is not with the intention of killing, i.e. trying out a magic spell i.e. testing the charms, and that is culpable inadvertence’

amainse ‘magic’

felmas ‘spell’

pisóc ‘charm’

Other Charms

There was mention of the use of charms, in general, with an interesting note concerning marriage.

bean dia tabair a ceile upta oca guide co mbeir for druis “a wife whose husband gives her love charms while wooing her so that he brings her to lust” is entitled to a divorce, and to keep her bride price!

Corrguine(ch) ‘crane / heron-slayer, sorcerer’ could be one who practices the crane stance, etc.

Herbs in Charms

An incredibly interesting portion of the talk skimmed over the different uses of herbs, specifically, that each class used a different herb for the same problem.  There is an indication that certain plants were only used for the noble class, etc.

Ar ni inun cosc sair [] dair [] leth[s]air: ‘for the prevention of [the evil eye from ?] the noble and base and half-noble is not the same’

Tri losa atheclthar and: righlus [] tarblus [] aitheclus: righlus do righaibh guna comhgradhaibh [] tarblus do gradhaibh flatha, aitheclus do gradaib deine “Three herbs are recognised here: royal herb and bull herb and plebeian herb: royal herb for kings and those of equal rank with them, bull herb for the grades of lord, and plebeian herb for the grades of commoner’

Time, and it’s connection with Charms

Another topic, which could have received its own treatment, was the notion that time mattered: that when you plucked or cut an herb was associated with status, of the herb and the person it was to be used on.

is ed dleghar a buain ‘maseach [] in lus resa[rai]ter is ed dleghar a buain cach nuairi do ‘it should be plucked in turn and the herb which is said [to correspond to his rank ?] is that which should be plucked every time for him’

[] is airi danither sen mada teccmadh a athair do gradhaibh flatha [] a mathair do gradhaibh feine ‘and it is for that reason that that is done, if his father should belong to the grades of lord, and his mother to the grades of commoner’

Agricultural Year ?

Prof. Kelly mentioned the lack of information present in early Irish MS regarding cereal crops.  He indicated that the climate here was never fit for them, and even the more hearty barley can be a struggle.  It is interesting to me that there should be a lack of literary reference to cereal crops in the early period, when they seem to overshadow the current practitioner (pagan) mindset of an agricultural (harvest based) year.  It puts me in mind of the theory espoused by Barry Cuncliffe of the university of Oxford and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims, that the transition to agriculture from a hunter-gather way of life was motivated by a reduction in large game after the last ice-age, and that turning to stationary lifestyles which required more intensive periods of work, and dependence on climate, was resisted.  This subject needs further practitioner (pagan) scholarship, if it has not already been done. 

A modern festival which I had read about previously was mentioned: Féil na nairemon ‘the festival of the ploughmen’  Prof Kelly indicated that this festival took place in mid June, when the crops had reached full growth, after 3 months of tending.

Additional Time related activities mentioned by audience members:

At Bealtaine – hawthorn was collected after sunset, placed on house before sunrise.

Vervaine is only collected when Sirius is rising, which is sometime in July.

Roots are collected after the November full moon.


The majority of Irish texts cited are from Corpus iuris hibernici  (Dublin 1978)  D.A. Binchy

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Incredible North Atlantic storm spans Atlantic Ocean, coast to coast

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…maybe it’s not even pagan theology that annoys me.  Maybe it’s just pagans in general, or perhaps human-persons, full-stop.

I don’t read ‘pagan’ blogs, which seems silly since I have one — duh.  But, I don’t, and the reason is because of the name-dropping, circular dialogue, fantasy-role-play feel of so much that I find when I do venture out.

I am an animist.  I don’t do the spirits-flying-about, patron-deity-from-Greece-of-someone-living-in-California, thing.  Or heaven forbid, take one of the many feminine aspects of sovereignty acknowledged by one of the over 300 túath in Ireland, single that principle out (the Morrigan) as a battle queen, ‘The’ soverignty goddess,etc, and then transport her to North America and imagine she has any interest there.

I realize that may sound dismissive to someone who does believe those things: especially to someone who grew-up in a christian home, disillusioned with religion and culture–with modernity in general– and sought something different….

For that person, what they saw, heard, or felt in the discovery of the Old Religion, no matter where that religion originated or the culture informing it, had a significant impact on their life.

It still annoys me.  The reason it annoys me is the lack of cultural understanding of the religion being resurrected, and a lack of current world view examination on the part of the practitioner.

If current world view were taken into account, most North American pagans (and good lord, what other title can I use? that’s another type of crazy making – this dissecting of terms – pagan, polytheist, monist, blah) would find that they carry within them the basic premise taught within christianity: that god(s) are disembodied entities that exist in a plane of reality so expansive from our own, that they are omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent.

Lest I come across overly curmudgeonly, or dogmatic, I want to be clear that it’s not personal. I have no issue with the human-persons involved.  It does concern me a little that in a modern capitalist culture, where alienation and anomie reign supreme and our REAL connection with the natural world — of which we are an intimate part — has been divided by a scientific worldview, that pagans engage in more intellectualizing and writing about gods/religion/spiritual practice/pantheons than living a pagan life.  It is dangerously close to being just another escapist occupation for a species cut-off from the ecstatic merger with nature that we are biologically designed for.

For myself, I view the world around me as living – genuinely living.  Not metaphorically, or on some simpler level than myself. That type of thinking smacks of human centrism  and has been the cause of much environmental harm.  No…the trees that are my friends (and not all trees are) don’t need dyads or gossamer spirits inhabiting them anymore than I do.  They are living creatures with their own language, world view, and culture.  Same goes for …. the various Winds, or Hurricanes, or the Robin that eats peanuts in my garden.  They are alive.  Their experience of the world is so alien to my own that I may never understand or really Know them, but by the gods, I respect them.

I have found in my searching that if you go far enough back, all our ancestors were animists. And that is good enough for me!

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An Animist Manifesto

by Graham Harvey
(an excerpt – to read the entire manifesto click here)

All that exists lives

All that lives is worthy of respect

You don’t have to like what you respect

Not liking someone is no reason for not respecting them

Respecting someone is no reason for not eating them

Reasons are best worked out in relationship – especially if you are looking for reasons to eat someone – or if you are looking for reasons not to be eaten

If you agree that all that exists is alive and worthy of respect, it is best to talk about ‘persons’ or ‘people’ rather than ‘beings’ or ‘spirits’, let alone ‘biomechanisms’, ‘resources’, ‘possessions’, and ‘things’

  • The world is full of persons (people if you prefer), but few of them are human
  • The world is full of other-than-human persons
  • The world is full of other-than-oak persons
  • The world is full of other-than-hedgehog persons
  • The world is full of other-than-salmon persons
  • The world is full of other-than-kingfisher persons
  • The world is full of other-than-rock persons…

‘Other-than’ has at least three references:

  • it reminds us that we are persons in relationship with others,
  • it reminds us that many of our closest kin are human, while the closest kin of oaks are oaks, so we talk most easily with humans while rocks talk most easily with other rocks…
  • it reminds us to speak first of what we know best (those closest to us)

Make that four references:

  • it reminds us to celebrate difference as an opportunity to expand our relationships rather than seeing it as a cause of conflict or conquest

All life is relational and we should not collapse our intimate alterities into identities

Others and otherness keep us open to change, open to becoming, never finally fixed in being

Alterities resist entropy and encourage creativity through rationality, sociality (or, as William Blake said, ‘enmity is true friendship’)

Animism is neither monist nor dualist, it is only just beginning when you get beyond counting one, two… At its best it is thoroughly, gloriously, unashamedly, rampantly pluralist

Respect means being cautious and constructive

It is cautiously approaching others — and our own wishes,

It is constructing relationships, constructing opportunities to talk, to relate, to listen, to spend time in the face-to-face presence and company of others

It is taking care of, caring for, caring about, being careful about…

It can be shown by leaving alone and by giving gifts

  • believers in ‘human rights’, for example, demonstrate their belief in rights not only by supporting legislation to protect individuals from states, companies and majorities, but by not insisting on hogging the whole road or pavement, not insisting on another human getting out of the way on a busy street…

You don’t have to hug every tree to show them respect but you might have to let trees grow where they will—you might have to move your telephone lines or greenhouse

You might have to build that road away from that rock or that tree

Hugging trees that you don’t know may be rude – try introducing yourself first

Just because the world and the cosmos is full of life does not make it a nice and easy place to live. Lots of persons are quite unfriendly to others. Many see us as a good dinner. They might respect us as they eat us. Or they may need education. Like us, they might learn best in relationship with others who show respect even to those they don’t like, and especially to those they like the taste of.


Go on over and read the rest.It’s juicy.


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Thinking about it from the standpoint of the history of philosophy, it was once a “given” in philosophical thought that all things had a sort of inner spirit or purpose for being. When certain “advances” in human civilization occurred (e.g. the Enlightenment), the ensouled view of matter was thrown out in favor of a disenchanted and mechanistic one. It was no longer proper to speak of all things as having a teleological purpose. So in at least some contexts, animism does not particularly describe a religious belief at all, but a philosophical position. It could be seen, in a religious context, as similar to polytheism.

By the last I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognised. . . . The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines. – JRR Tolkien

A natural history which is composed for its own sake s not like one that is collected to supply the understanding with information for the building up of philosophy. They differ in many ways, but especially in this: that the former contains the variety o f natural species only, and not experiments of the mechanical arts. For even as in the business of life a man’s disposition and the secret workings of his mind and affections are better discovered when he is in trouble than at other times; so likewise the secrets of nature reveal themselves more readily under the vexation of art [i.e., artisanry, technology] than when they go their own way. – Francis Bacon, Aphorism XCVIII

Although Bacon’s identification of knowledge with industrial utility and his grappling with the concept of experiment based on technology certainly underlie much of our current scientific thought,m the implications drawn from the Cartesian corpus exercised a staggering impact on the subsequent history of Western consciousness and (despite the differences with Bacon) served to confirm the technological paradigm–indeed,, even helped to launch it on its way. Man’s activity as a thinking being–and that is his essence, according to Descartes–is purely mechanical. The mind is in possession of a certain method. It confronts the world as a separate object. It applies this method to the object, again and again and again, and eventually it will know all there is to know. The method, furthermore, is also mechanical. The problem is broken down into its components, and the simple act of cognition (the direct perception) has the same relationship to the knowledge of the whole problem that, let us say, an inch has to a foot: one measures (perceives) a number of times, and then sums the results. Subdivide, measure, combine; subdivide, measure, combine. – Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World.

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I am taking a very long way round in expressing my recent thinking on ‘pop-up gods’, to coin a bad phrase. There are certainly as many ways to experience and engage with one’s spirituality, or religion, as there are people. My own took a fateful turn when I invited the Ancestors to work intimately with me during initiation, and again when I moved to this green island of madmen and poets. You see, one winter I took a drive…

In far western Mayo, on a blustery gray day, I ventured to Achille Island. The bleak expanse of rock, jagged and forlorn, was desolate, cold, and mostly uninhabited. Standing on a remote pebble beach, a bracing wind in my face, I felt the mighty power of the Atlantic. I marveled at the hardy souls, human and other-than-human, who call that place home and love it with a fierce passion. The Cailleach reigns supreme in winter, and feeling the inhospitable landscape around me as an embodiment of her, I shivered. And then I remembered …. all the stories when the hero meets the hag.

The hero is often out on a great adventure, and often seeking kingship, when he encounters an old woman in need of help or seeking a favor. Occasionally the favor is sexual, and occasionally explicitly so. For those who reject or spurn the old woman, disaster befalls, but for those who willingly and gladly give what she asks, they discover, to their amazement, a young and beautiful woman who bestows upon them the greatest gift a warrior hero could ask for: sovereignty.

Standing on Achille, in the fierceness of winter, I understood that for a King or Queen to rule justly and rightly they needed to love the land in ALL her aspects. If they wouldn’t lay down their body for the blighted winter, they did not deserve the lush spring. I scrambled then to search out folklorists who had studied the Cailleach in folklore, and Professor Gearóid Ó Crualaoich’s book, The Book of The Cailleach; Stories of the Wise-Woman healer, beats them all! In it, he discusses the role of Irish oral tradition, as both therapeutic and literary, and he exuberantly delves into the history, displacement, and reinterpretation of the Autonomous Female — the Land.

At this point, a part of my brain screeched to a halt. Wait! That’s just anthropomorphizing a natural phenomena. *Just*. Can you see my Western centric world view at play? I took a Great Power…the rich and luscious consciousness that my head rests upon, and denigrated Her to the position of *just* a natural phenomena. Oh, how I weep to remember it. How lost and human centric to imagine the complex Being I live upon is *just* a piece of dirt! I imagine somewhere in my body a liver cell, right now, is thinking the same thing about me.

It was at this point that I began to hungrily search out connection between other myths and folklore and the bountiful, conscious non-human persons that populate the land around me. My first was Áine, Crom Dubh, and Eithne…fitting, as Lughnasadh is a special Gate for me. Even then, it took until this year, living as I do now by fields of barley, to hear for myself the wonderful story of Eithne, the grain. How beautiful that at sometime, someone lovingly listened as this sacred non-human person shared her story. Her blowing yellow tresses have now been cut…she is deep within the earth with Crom, and a remnant of her sacred body rests on my altar.

Lest I neglect Áine (how could I), many of my dear friends have felt the touch of her kiss at Lough Gur and seen her gentle dancing feet. Her swelling belly undulates the lands of southern Limerick with a dance of dream, sexuality, and fertility. She is the autonomous female of that place, and she alone determines which persons, human and other than, thrive and flourish upon her. I adore her, and she holds my heart close…. yet…… she is not here, on my ridge, where Mór Muman spreads her skirt wide. In this BlackWater valley Great Munster has a different face.

Oh…and back home in Austin…who could not love Quick Silver of the water, the great Power of Barton Springs. She is lively and laughing, a white flash with long silver hair. Her arms reach out to hold you and her youthful face is glowing.. Yet, she is not here. I reach my long arm of awareness toward her and the Great Lady Tejas, and I can…touch them. But why? Yes, I love them. Yes, I wish them well. Yes, I feel bound to them. Yet, why would I ask them to come here, to help me here?

There are some Great, Old Powers that are outside of earthen borders. They exist in a darkness so black, a space so cold, that their consciousness is as my pre-frontal cortex must seem to my big toenail. They are larger than one continent or another, one atmosphere or another, one galaxy or another. In all of these lesser spirits, is consciousness. My word…. what type of person is Mars, our neighbor??


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