This article has been a long time in the making. I’ve worked the words and ideas over and over in my mind, trying to decide what perspective I want to write from. Do I want to just write an article that explains what animism is? Do I want to compare and contrast it with other forms of belief in modern Paganism? In the end, I decided that I would come at it from the perspective of my journey, and the role that animism has played in my life.
Like many Pagans, I was something of an earth child growing up. I loved to play outdoors (or at least I learned to love it since ‘pouring rain’ was the criteria under which we were allowed to come inside and bum around during the day). I loved walking through the small wood near my house, swimming in the river, and wandering sandy beaches whenever I got the chance. I even found a secluded pathway that lead to an old, overgrown rail track that took me to and from school. The solitude of nature helped me to relax and recharge when being around people proved to be too much.
Later, I became an avid gardener, growing berries, flowers, herbs, and even trees in the backyard. My first tree that wasn’t from a nursery, was a clipping of my neighbour’s huge weeping willow. I remember that I had heard that they were planning to sell the house and would be cutting it down to improve their property value. I was heartbroken, and I had my brother sneak over and grab a twig.
It flourished under my care, and I was so proud. I loved it so much that I took it with me when I moved out. Unfortunately, attacks by unhappy felines proved to be too much for the little thing (though by then it was roughly five feet tall). I still miss that tree.
Over the years, I have had oaks, chestnuts, and pines (all that were lost during various moves – the people who moved in after we left must have thought we were a little crazy to have potted trees on the porch). Today, I have an avocado, spruce, ivy, and little lemon sprout that is about the hardiest little plant I have met in a long time.
My ability to help plants grow has always been an indicator of my own inner wellbeing. Our move away from the coast definitely wreaked havoc with my green thumb, and has taught me not to take growing for granted. Keeping plants alive and thriving is a lot more work when you can’t count on the air to help keep the soil and leaves moist.
Outside of my various gardens, I have felt the warm, welcoming energy of many forested areas. I have known the calming and grounding energy of trees who taught me not to worry about conflicts and stresses that are so fleeting. I have felt the pulling energy of a gemstone in the palm of my hand. For me, animism was never a belief. It was a fact of life.
In the early years of my practise, I struggled to find a place for myself on the pantheistic/polytheistic scale. I have seen the Wheel of the Year tale expressed in so many beautiful ways, and I have seen calendars from ancient times revived and added to modern lives. I don’t think I ever really came to a solid decision one way or the other. I do tend to believe that there are many gods. I can also accept that there is one overarching unknowable force that connects all parts of the universe – like a giant etheric web.
The mythos of the Star Goddess satiates my desire for an origin story of the universe. The deities of Feri tradition have a pull that speaks to the part of me that is so easily distracted by vibrant colour and catchy music (call it Fetch or Younger Self or Inner Child or whatever you like). The gods of my ancestors also hold a strong place in my heart for leading me to Paganism in the first place.
But through all my meditations and contemplation, I have found only bread crumbs – bits and pieces that have led me to new places and new ideas. To paraphrase fellow blogger Alison Leigh Lilly,
“Sometimes they linger beyond the limits of our ordinary experiences, leaving only footprints and snapped twigs as traces of their presence.”
The fact that I have never been drawn to a patron, for a time, gave me the same feeling of being an outsider that I had when I stood outside of the Baptist church of my youth – a strange mixture of sadness at not belonging, and the exhilaration of freedom. And as I did then, I chose freedom.
My worldview can allow for everyone to be right without contradiction. I like the idea that “there are many paths up the mountain”. It allows for a harmony among faiths that is so important in our world today.
Since the new year, I have been re-reading some of my classic Pagan books to see how my views and opinions have changed over the last 15+ years. One thing that I was pleasantly surprised to see was an animistic interpretation of some of our mythologies. In Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, the twenty year edition notes contain a lovely interpretation of the three gods of the Star Goddess creation story:
“Today, I interpret the three aspects of the God as embodying the three great strategies that life forms on this planet have developed for getting energy: fermentation, photosynthesis, and respiration. The Green God represents the plant world […] The Horned God represents the animal world […] And the Blue God is the third force that breaks patterns of duality, the fermenters who release energy by breaking apart old forms, the fungi that aid in the process of decay.”
The Greenman and the Lord of the Hunt are easy to visualize as representations of the plant and animal worlds. The Peacock God as fungus was somewhat less so for me. The Blue God had always in my mind represented that part of youth that is showy and playful. I have a two-year old son, and he is constantly running around laughing and dancing and showing off to make others smile and laugh. This is the image I see when I think of the Blue God. How could that energy be encapsulated in a mushroom?
It would seem that playfulness can be found in the world of fungi after all.
The purpose of mythology is to help us explore sacred truths. I am interested now in seeing if I can identify the personification of the natural world in other myths. I might take that approach with the Wheel of the Year stories this year. Or I may just sit back and see what comes to me.
One of my few new year’s resolutions was to add more green to my life now that the children are a little older and can mostly be trusted not to touch things when they are told not to touch them. Just having a couple of plants in my office already adds to my enjoyment of being in this room. The key for me will be not going overboard – I have self-control issues when spring starts to show its face.
I promised my daughter that she could have her own plant to take care of this year as well. She is very excited. Flowers, plants, and bugs are her most favourite things. I don’t think I had a favourite bug when I was her age, but for her, butterflies and ladybugs are magical – she builds little houses in the yard for the ladybugs she finds wandering about.
Sitting here watching the snow fall outside of my window has me longing for the earth to wake up. It is cold today, but I can feel that subtle prickle on the breeze on the days when the temperature rises to within a few degrees of zero. The days are growing longer, and spring is on its way.