Animism seems to be one of the hot topics on the occult blogs and podcasts at the moment. Having just worked through Graham Harvey’s Handbook of Contemporary Animism and Emma Restall Orr’s The Wakeful World to enhance my own understanding of the subject, i.e. to see what others are saying about it, I thought I would share some of my thoughts here.
The two books are quite different. While both are written is very scholarly fashion, the latter is far easier to read than the former. Bobcat really gets under the skin of Animism, inclusing a description of Animism as a “a monist metaphysical stance based upon ubiquitous and integrated mindedness” (p132) – all nature is rooted in a underpinning thing and it all has “mind”.
I suppose that I’ve come late to the term. Like many, I have intrinsically rejected the dualism of modernity stemming from Descartes. Drawn instead to the Taoist notion of the One that contains parts within parts, almost holographically, a concept that seems increasingly born out by physics.
The concept of mind being integral to matter is fascinating. A single source of mind but with diversity in its complexity. The mind of a mountain containing the mind of rocks which contain the minds of the compounds and of the atoms. The complexity of the mountain leading to a complexity of mind that is quite distinct from animals yet is still part of the whole mind of the universe. The universe, one mind with one story.
The part that is harder to see in the universal mind is how the spirits, gods and goddesses that are external to a physical identity fit with this world view, i.e. the goddess of a mountain is straightforward but how about how about Cernnunos or the souls of people who have died physically? If matter and mind are part of a whole, can mind exist outside of matter? How can the spirits exist without physical matter to base themselves in? Is there a universal great spirit? Many Animists from native religions believe in a great spirit, an otherworld and an afterlife but these seem not to be possible in Bobcat’s version of Animism.
That leaves me with a problem. Her view of that mind, matter and spirit and soul are all part of the same entity feels right but it leaves no explanation for an afterlife other than in the memory of others or in the decaying body in the ground.
Perhaps there can be a reconciliation between these views. Matter and energy are similarly entwined into a whole. Einstein described it as e=mc2. Matter can appear to exist separately from energy but it is a false perception, we have known for over 100 years that atoms are not solid items but bits of energy. Energy can exist without matter though. The heat radiating from the sun arrives as electromagnetic waves, i.e. a force rather than particles.
Other forces are integral to matter too. The strong nuclear force that binds protons for example. Other forces can be external to matter too, such as gravity, and some theorists suggest that the four forces are really one force expressed in different ways.
Matter / force and energy are not separate, matter is formed of energy and force. If this is replicated with mind/soul/spirit then matter and mind can be one but mind can exist outside of matter too.
It suggests that mind and energy may be synonymous too. Perhaps then the stars are the the largest expressions of gods especially as they are the source of life? Without the energy of the sun the Earth would be a sterile rock, still with matter and mind and energy but not with the vibrant life that we know.
The idea that mind can exist outside of matter but matter cannot exist without mind is appealing. It allows explanations such as Sheldrake’s morphic resonance and his memory theory of how life develops. It allows an understanding of the collective unconscious and for some of our mind / soul to continue after the death of our physical bodies.