These are some ideas I thought to get down and share brought up by the animist discussion of Gordon White & Sarah Anne Lawless on Gordon’s Rune Soup podcast (here).
I am an outright animist. I experience pretty everything as alive. I talk to everything. I talk to my dogs, my cat, the snow, the trees, the house, my silver, my talismans, my drill press, the coffee. Mainly I talk to the spirits. This isn’t just idle blather. I talk about what I am trying to do, what I hope to do, and ask for assistance. Often I receive it.
The first active magic I ever tried was a healing. When I was 18 I had an iguana named Carl. When I broke up with the young woman who had given him to me, Carl the iguana got very sick. I healed him with some sort of shamnry/magic using my saliva, a garnet, and who-knows-what-else. Essentially I asked the Iguana Spirits to help out their boy, and they did. He died anyway some months later, but my first outright working was a success.
30 years on, and a good chunk of reading and talking with magical folks and doing solo and group work, this is pretty much still my approach. It’s shape can could be defined as ‘asking the x____ Spirits to help x____ with x_____’ and nearly everything else is supportive work.
When I first start ’studying’ magic I pretty rapidly moved into working with an ‘energy model’. I could see how effects came from causes (aka karma), even if there wasn’t any kind of scientifically provable causality. This covered my immediate needs for manifesting and de-manifesting all of the things, and is what I would now, having read a bit of Buddhism, refer to as dependent causation + the energy model.
Here is the ultra simplified energy model as I used it:
All manifestations in the field of experienceable existence come about by fluctuations of energy. This energy for the most part changes continuously. However, ‘strong’ events & disturbances cause ‘energy swirls’ that I perceived like a storm going cyclonic (like a tornado), they keep themselves together for awhile and have notable effects. If this ‘swirl’ lasts for awhile, it in essence becomes its own continuous cause. If it persists for a longish time (say moving from moments to hours to days and into weeks or months or years) it becomes a ‘persistent presence’. All persistent presences behave 'as if' sentient. For whatever fucked up reason (it’s quite unfair, really!) the Bad Nasties tend to persist more than the good shit. I expect this is because being hurt really horribly produces an inward turning motion where the cyclonic action is a tightening spiral, which, like twisting fibers together to make cord, gets stronger and more durable as it gets more tightly wound. Happiness and joy tend to be expansive and so tend to dissipate fairly quickly.
Here’s the crucial bit again: All persistent presences behave as if sentient. Which means you can work with them, at least potentially. And they can effect you, as they are not only sentient, but are potential causes (in other words, may have things they desire or need in some fashion that you may seem like a good source of). Persistent presences who intend to do you harm are traditionally what we think of as demonic. Demonic entities' natures are easily seen by their behaviours (just like people, both can talk a good game but their actions betray their intentions for all to see if the seer is willing to see), once we are not entangled in their rather sticky energy field. The only rule to remember is: demon is as demon does. This means that if the demon is doing you harm, that’s all you need to know to modify the situation.
In time the energy model I used just sort of ‘fell into’ a Spirit Model. This Spirit Model is animism. As I use the term (and I am so far from an academic that I neither know nor care if I use it ‘correctly’!) this means that essentially EVERYTHING is alive, animated. Persistent presences all around! Animism contains the Energy model above, but is not dependent on it. What this means is that while many of us walk around talking to the walls, cat, birds, trees… to some extent, this is only polite. Not everything wants to chat however, and not everything can help you with your day to day issues with cause and effect. But some can. Finding those that can and will and developing relationships with them is the main basis of sorcery or witchcraft, in my opinion.
As Gordon and Sarah talk about in their conversation, the best way to build these relationships is a) being nice and b) paying attention. Being a dick to the spirits can actually work, but it’s neither efficient or polite. Effects are ALWAYS colored by their causes…that old ‘ends justify the means’ thing also needs clarification: ‘the end will reflect the nature of the means to some degree in some way’ this is karma, no matter how much some people want it to be something else or demand that it be called something else.1 We are ‘nice’ by making offerings and not being a dick. We ‘pay attention’ by not just being demanding, but by listening. This is not ‘listening’ in a strictly auditory sense, but listening for impressions in any way they come. This can mean dreams, divination, hunches, deja vu, visions, signs and portents, etc etc. These things (offerings) are means that carry within them the seeds of positive outcomes (positive as in ‘beneficial to us and others’). We can work the other way, via force and coercion but anyone who has been at this kind of work long enough (and is an active listener!) can certainly tell you that there is a vast difference between these two approaches. This isn’t right or left hand, boo scary or fluffy bunny, this is straight up respect for the nature of the field and it’s inhabitants.
I have to give credit to Jason Miller for actually getting me to think seriously about offerings and making them the cornerstone of my work. They simplify literally everything. Offerings function both as fuel and lubrication for the engines of sorcery, magic, and life.
On the Dead:
There’s this interesting thing to me abut people not wanting to work with the dead. And it is this: you already are. The leather on your shoes? The dead. The petrochemical plastics in your shoes (for you vegans out there!) are derived from way old dead things. The soil that the (dead) vegetables you eat grow in? Dead things. All the bacteria, rodents, etc who were exterminated so farmers could grow soybeans for your tofu on their land? Dead, dead, dead. We are literally constructed (as is all life) from the vast sea of the dead that have lived before us. They are the source of our DNA and the minerals in our blood and bones. This just is.
Making offerings to the specific, close in dead like grandparents (not too much my thing, actually, although my grandmothers are very sweet), to the dead on whose bones our homes are built (and I’m not just talking humans- this whole planet is a graveyard, everywhere, earth, sea, and air, we are breathing the dust of the dead just as we eat it, we are swimming in the dead in the waters of the earth), and to those ‘back down the line’ dead (these are deep genetic lines heading back to pre homo-sapien times) all connect us to a spirit-stream that is inordinately…interested in us. For better or worse.
In practice, to receive some benefit, you actually don’t have to do very much. I give water, coffee, candles, incense and chi or breath as my main offerings. Food is good. Everyone around here likes corn tortillas, coffee, and fresh water. I do this frequently, with the intention and words of something like ‘I give offerings to the spirits that aid and guard me. Spirits of the dead, both mine and of this place. Mothers of my mothers, fathers of my father, all the way back to the time before time. Please accept these offerings and let there be peace between us”. Hang out for a bit. An hour or a day later, take the food & liquid offerings outside and give them the land spirits. My outside dogs are land spirits, too, so they get the tortillas, while the cottontails and jack rabbits get any vegetation.
In my experience (and that of many I know) this will do more for most people than damn near any other type of magic or sorcery. In part because it (as I said before, but it bears repeating) works as both fuel and lubrication for any other magical work. It sets the table where we can sit and work things out with those spirits we already have relations with. And because the process is reciprocal, we get assistance in a general way even when we don’t ask for it. Life simply works better.
The second part of this has to do with bringing your questions, problems, desires to the table. This can also be done simply and directly. Sit, light a candle perhaps, greet your spirits and ancestors and let loose. My approach is the ‘break out the rib spreaders’ variety. I just get honest, open up, and let it bleed. More obviously ’spell’ kind of work also tends to get brought to the table. I do my part with the sigils or what have you, and then give it to the collective as well: “this is what I am after, I’d love any and all assistance”. This is a dead (sorry!) simple and almost stupidly effective way to work.
Aidan Wachter, Winter Solstice 2015
Beyond those mentioned in the text, I’d like to add thanks to Marcus R. McCoy, Brianna Saussy, and Fabeku Fantumise all of whom have recently affected or clarified my thinking on these things. My interpretations, however, may not match theirs!
Most of the caveats of working this way are covered in the podcast, so I won’t dig into this much further. The main thing for raw beginners: don’t make offerings to the evil sons of bitches in your family tree! This may make sense someday (and maybe not) but it’s not a wise place to start.
1 karma freaks some magical/witchy types out I think because they have difficulty moving beyond their own particular lens. This first gets funky when folks view the wiccan law of threefold return as the same thing as karma. This is not the case. It’s a nice way of trying to get folks to behave, but by making it so specific, it kind of kills it’s utility. The second place it gets funky is that most of us in the West don’t actually live inside a reality of reincarnation. I say reality, because to those inside the cultures that practice reincarnation, it’s not an idea or a concept, it is an actual proven, known thing. Within this realty, it of course makes sense that karma (cause and effect) works across lifetimes. I personally have no problem with the idea that people of some cultures reincarnate while others do not. My experience of life is so peculiar from what I see generally discussed that it seems quite reasonable to think that different people do life (or lives) in different ways. Remove the concept of reincarnation and karma is more a process of physics (perhaps very strange quantum physics!) than a specifically religious doctrine.
It’s totally ok if you don’t agree with me on this, too.
Also: please take a look at Bill Nemo Trumpler's comment on this below! This is a very good point.
Next up: Spiritual Ecology and Hormesis. Or something like that.