When I was in England this summer, and visiting one of the fiercest women with an intense integrity, she asked me about my relationship to the christian god. No one had asked. Not even christians. I fumbled for some clarity, a bit of a fog into which she asked, “So you’re an animist?” Well, yes, indeed, true. Which further led me to think about naming the shifting landscapes of our inner shadows and darkness, until I came up with this: I am an animist druid priest. There, that says it. Now, what follows is some clarity about those words as I hold them.
Animism is a relational philosophy/psychology integral to and within the earth itself, such that nothing can be said to exist that is not in relationship, and thereby cannot be said to exist unless it is in relationship. Which is to say, all of the earth is minded, aware in its own multivalent ways of sensing, and therefore awakened, responsive, communicative, intentional and with an inbred determination to thrive, to breed and to create descendants. It doesn’t always happen with such romance, but I would say there is a fundamental impulse in a species to live from generation to generation and to accommodate changes along the way. There are seeds on the wind; splinters that root; nests in trees and on cliff sides; cells that divide in order to propagate; stringers of roots under the soil waiting to burst into the light; boulders heaving off cliff sides in the thrill of freefall; shores gradually eroding while oceans caress the land; birds carrying spores that drop into new territories; houses that speak to their inhabitants about longevity and its end; beings that show up as energy and seek form and substance; and so on.
There are many animist cultures on the planet. It is the oldest acknowledged human religion on the globe, and the oldest sensibility which necessarily includes the multifaceted, interwoven and mutually influencing relationships of all non-human existence. If it can be said that nonhumans have religion, this is it. The earth is animist. Among humans, there are still animist cultures and religion. It’s everywhere, even if in smattering bits of memory. It is also increasingly being published. See, for example, David Abram’s Becoming Animal (publ. 2010), among other such brilliant writings.
Animism is strengthening and maturing. It is reawakening in our thought processes–online organizations for care of the earth are swelling, for good reasons–, in philosophical treatises (see, Emma Restall Orr’s The Wakeful World in my bibliography) and in debates about the psychology of perception. It may have been somewhat dormant in human awareness due to opposing forces, particularly for the last 1500 years in the spread of the European West. But those dominant forces have spewed a wreckage on the earth; and so, like tectonic plates shifting again–for the earth is always on the move–, animism is waking up. Our ancestors, our earthly pagan ancestors, are rising from the mists of our own shadows. They are peering intently from the hallowed dark and are stepping out into the light. It is a desperately needed awakening into our time.
A Druid is one whose animistic, blood roots go back to Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, primarily. Which is to say: By saying I am “druid,” I speak an invocation to my own animist ancestors and to no one else’s. To be a druid is to be linked to my heritage, still beating in my heart. Among all the animist peoples on the planet, this is my ancestral pathway. So, while I might share many features of indigenous beliefs from around the globe, I will walk beside them without ever wanting to be them. I have no need either to be them or to have them adopt me. My own ancestors walk in my feet, scrape knuckles against glacial boulders, speak with atavistic fears from a darkness still within me, craft rituals that heal the broken bones of cultural consciousness. I carry my ancestors, deeply and with dignity. I am druid.
By “priest” I mean this person’s return commitment to the earth, a deeply felt and relational response to having arrived to this moment as an animist druid. It is my service. And it is not just my individual service. Because of my integration into my ancestors, my heritage is given their voice, too. Because of my integration into the earth, the earth itself has been given the pleasures and resistances of shaping my body, my consciousness, my life journey. Being a priest, therefore, is not only what I do, but also what I allow to be done to me because I surrender to the wild, insecure, deft and tumbledown changes that is collectively called the “earth.” For, I am not only “on” the earth, I am “in” the earth, and more particularly, I am “of” the earth. This pattern of intimate and integrated relational response is the earth’s pattern in its entirety. Everywhere we go, there it is already happening. Being a priest may be my passion, but it is also the earth’s passion….a passion in me, in weeds cracking cement sidewalks, in the fiery talons of a mother lion, the lively and sometimes violent thrust of winds….in any who has awakened to our immense integration. Therefore, and thereby, I care. I care by teaching; I care by attending: I care by listening and feeling the threads of earth’s life force wrap me in memory, a remembrance of the vitality of our mutual relationship and regard. I care by accepting responsibility for the consequences of the next moment.
In summary, being a priest isn’t only what I do on behalf of the earth, or for the people, as some religions figure it. Being a priest is a response from within nature itself, speaking to itself, addressing its own needs in rituals, ethics, thoughtfulness, care, determination, intentions, wholely claiming its own right of existence, through this one person’s consciousness.
Animist Druid Priest. “What’s in a name?” Indeed, Juliet, “a rose by any other name smells just as sweet,” and I could do without the names altogether and still be what they describe. And yet, and yet…if I hand you a bouquet of petunias, that is somewhat different than offering you a bouquet of roses. N’est-çe pas? So, with all the swollen history breathing in these words, I invoke: Animist Druid Priest.