The Interbeing of Animism

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by Pegi Eyers

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Nesting, by Pegi Eyers

This narrative shares a collection of “truth-tales” drawing on my encounters with the more-than-human world, and immersive experiences in nature. The embrace of the natural world, which welcomes us all back to the sacred circle, has been my greatest teacher. It is by sharing these stories that I found how my “conversations with the other” reflect the fourfold “Spiral” journey of The Work That Reconnects. Approaching the land with “Gratitude,” often seeking comfort from trauma or confusion, I’ve been blessed with the healing that nature provides. All of nature is speaking, and my explorations have gifted me with a receptivity to natural cycles, equanimity with the web of life, and an intrinsic sense of belonging. “Seeing with Ancient Eyes” and feeling a deep connection to the ancestors and primordial forces, I depart with new insights, and ways of being in the world.    

Truth-Tale  I wander far into the wilderness, to where it seems no human being could possibly have gone before. I wait quietly for something to happen.  And sure enough, although I can’t pinpoint the source, tiny bell-like notes rise up in a pure waterfall of sound, like seeds floating in an orbit, or circles of flowers chiming in bliss. Enchanted, and surrounded by harmonious bands of streaming blue and singing green, somehow I traverse bogs, meadows, and the antlers of branching trees, to find myself at my cabin door once again.

Simple, direct, immediate and profound, animism is as close to us as the green space, seasonal cycles, and other-than-human-world that surrounds us.

Many excellent definitions for “animism” exist today, as a key term for activating our most primal and authentic eco-selves in the wild. As we “return to the garden,” exploring narratives on animism are important for societies disconnected from the land.  But nothing can replace the wonder of direct experience! Whether our starting point is curiosity and a willingness to seek encounters, or grief and deep despair, animism is as natural as the flowering of our senses. Simple, direct, immediate and profound, animism is as close to us as the green space, seasonal cycles, and other-than-human-world that surrounds us.

Experiencing the wonders of nature first-hand allows us to bypass linear thinking, and interpretations come easily with an undeniable “knowing,” or become clear over time.  Deeply personal messages and affinities are all around us, and the appearance and timing of phenomena like a rainbow, the cawing of a raven, patterns etched in sand, or the visitation of a snake can have great individual purpose and meaning.  As a companion to wild nature, I continue to feel, sense, observe and speak with other presences out on the land – creatures, deities, plant allies and archetypes. These encounters can be one-of-a-kind, or depending on the place, evolve over time with great care and devotion. As it was in ancient times, the other-than-human world embraces a host of endlessly expressive and individualistic living entities whose actions we may adore, emulate, decipher, or even influence! Our relationships with all energetic beings, whether spiritual or physical, indicates an acceptance of multiple realities in the world.  

Truth-Tale  The day I acquire teachings that reinforce the sentience of Earth Community and change my worldview forever, I leave the house, and just outside the door a magnificent toad is waiting. I long for the day when I am as at home in my environment as this attentive being.  I place a blessing of protection on the small creature, which leads to a conversation full of magnetic knowing and mutual love. From that day onward, I remember Wise Toad as a guardian of life’s passages.

The world is alive with purpose, energy and sacred life.

The world is alive with purpose, energy and sacred life. The elementals and earth spirits have identifiable characteristics, personalities or gender, and narratives from oral traditions portray them as neutral, lovable, exuberant, terrifying or even mischievous!  If we are open to sharing through our heart, mind, dreaming body and other senses, the trees, plants, animals and sacred creatures with whom we share this wondrous planet have an infinity of healing, guardianship, and learning experiences to offer.  By stilling our inner dialogue, focusing on positive intent and emotions, and listening deeply with our entire range of senses, we have the ability to initiate conversations.  The results can be surprising and awe-inspiring!  Some people hear actual speech; for others it is a waking dream, powerful vision, or spontaneous experience, while others receive messages through night-time visitations, strong feelings or intuitions.

Truth-Tale   In a state of shock and confusion I practice earthing on the lakeshore for a few hours. My cares and doubts fall away, and I focus on one particular small shrub who has been gently waving. Remembering my lessons on green energy I pay close attention, but the plant spirit is offended and turns away.  After a while other layers open up, and in the healing waters of the deep lake currents I sense a great and ancient feminine being. I think I know her, but hesitate to call her name. It is a brief yet incredible encounter, and as I walk home a voice crystallizes in my mind. “Thank you for seeing me. I have been here since time immemorial, and I will be here long after you are gone. Gather your kindred spirits who love the Earth – the time to act is now.”

Having interactions with the ecosystem as part of our daily lives, animists are in agreement that our interbeing binds us to the Earth Communities with whom we share our world.  Deeply connected to the land and its seasonal cycles, animists are in rapport with the animals, plants, living spirits, Ancestors and spiritual forces, looking “to the wholeness  of nature  for its  principal teachings” in the way that Indigenous animism does (Orr, 2011). Learning from Indigenous societies worldwide, including those in Old Europe, we are reminded that humans thrive best within an animistic reality in which everything, inanimate or animate, has life, energy and spirit. To the practicing animist, every part of Earth Community is aware, and a mountain or an entire territory can be the outward form of spiritual presence, or an abode of elemental forces inhabited by sentient beings and creatures. Without a doubt, the life force in nature – such as the movement of waters and stars, or the growth of plants and animals – implies the presence of indwelling spirits.

  Western society is waking up to what Indigenous societies have always known: that Earth Community is sentient and aware, albeit in different ways than how we perceive consciousness as humans. Stones, trees and other aspects of the natural world are autonomous and willful beings who possess their own traits and dispositions.  A spiritual force pervades all of nature, and the magical and mysterious beings in forests, shorelines, caves, mounds, springs and meadows continue to present themselves to us, and communicate great insight, awareness and numinosity.

As a clear example of Indigenous wisdom, in Anishnaabe epistemology the intrinsic co-arising and cooperation within Earth Community is known as  the “Council of Life.”  The animist perspective is also apparent in the cosmology of the Haudenosaunee, as “The world around and all its features – rivers, trees, clouds, springs and mountains – are regarded as alive, endowed with spirit and sensibility every bit as real as those of humans, and in fact of exactly the same type and quality. Among the Iroquois this was called Orenda, the invisible force inherent in all parts of the universe.”  (Sale, 2000)

Animists evoke, honor and obey a multiplicity of magical spirits, deities, elements and powers. 

Deeply related and interactive in our mutual admiration, kinship and needs, the cycles and manifestations of growth that occur in self and nature correspond both materially and spiritually. The macrocosm and microcosm meeting within ourselves are also realized with the divine principle of “as above so below.” By virtue of being connected to the holism of Earth Community, we become attuned to a vast cosmovision, and all notions of monotheism fall away. Animists evoke, honor and obey a multiplicity of magical spirits, deities, elements and powers.

 Truth-Tale  “Like echoes like” I am thinking, as I pick up a stone marked with lines of red ochre, exactly the same as the ancient petroglyphs I have visited with Indigenous friends.  Asking permission, the patterned stone willingly joins the other objects in my sacred pouch, which includes a small figurine of divine feminine blessing. Weeks later on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the pouch is lost to a robbery of human greed and grasping, yet when I return home, the stone marked with red ancestral pigment is on my altar waiting. I accept this magic as willingly as the Petroglyph Stone has accepted me.

There are an infinity of examples found worldwide that reflect interactive bonds between the human/nonhuman world, such as the miraculous communications within the Findhorn community.  By developing empathy skills, opening up their consciousness and widening their sensory abilities, Eileen Caddy, Peter Caddy and Dorothy MacLean were able to hear the wisdom and tutelage as expressed by the overarching nature spirits, or “Devas,” of the plant realm.

 In a state of  heightened awareness – a space of great joy, freedom and unconditional love – they found that the Devas were thrilled to be noticed by humans, and with ongoing interaction became companions in cooperative gardening and co-evolution. All forms of life start with energies that are materialized into specific physical form by overarching soul essences, the “Kingdom of Devas” who hold the archetypal patterns. Harmonizing one’s self with the soul essence of a plant can evoke a response, such as this communication received from the Flowering Gentian:

Wild Companions by Pegi Eyers

 We bring breaths of open spaces and hills, of sunshine, showers, and breezes.  All of these are part of your being.  Even if you live in the midst of a busy city, these natural things are home to you. They are part of the atmosphere of this Earth, part of the surroundings in which you live and grow. Even if your life and thinking are completely enmeshed in the human world, still you are part of our Deva world, which works for the perfect flowering of all life.  This is your birthright. You may turn your back on it, but someday you will learn the truth and live in connection with all life on this planet.  Only then will you tap your highest potential.  (McLean, 1991)  

 An abundance of interactions with the other-than-human are just waiting to happen! Numinous encounters tend to be immediate and profound, and then morph into the heart and soul of our personal mythology.  Lived experiences on the land can form the basis for oral traditions, as the storied landscape gives rise to new cultural narratives and lifeways.  As we focus on the wild as our cultural and spiritual practice, animism will thrive, and by sharing old/new ways of being, the syndrome of “nature disconnect” will fade away.  By extension, our collective responsibility to all life applies to human kinship groups as well, with the community practices of sharing, caring, belonging and support.

Truth-Tale  I find myself encountering turtles everywhere I go – images and other icons – and I spot them on summer lawns and in the wild. I feel a sense of the miraculous beyond serendipity, and begin to know a closeness to Mother Turtle, who tells me life lessons of the most sacred symbols unfolding, in the deepest recesses of both cosmos and Feral Earth. Then one day, when I encounter a broken turtle beside the highway, I become a psychopomp and sing to her as she crosses over. In my grief, deep regret, gratitude and anger, I am driven to spend the next four years fundraising for a turtle rescue organization.

Our reawakening to animism, arising from our collective ancient past, will naturally move us forward to a sustainable future, and reciprocity with Earth Community.

Honoring the life force in creation and knowing that all beings are sacred are the core beliefs of animism, and it is our collective responsibility to support this interexistence with the highest respect and generosity of spirit. We have never been separate from the life-affirming power of nature, and human beings are just one strand woven into the complex systems of the land.  By respecting Mother Earth as a living entity and acknowledging all forms of consciousness in the natural world, we take our appropriate place within (not above) the Circle of All Life. Our reawakening to animism, arising from our collective ancient past, will naturally move us forward to a sustainable future, and reciprocity with Earth Community.


MacLean, Dorothy.  (1991)  To Honor the Earth: Reflections on Living in Harmony with Nature. HarperCollins. 

Orr, Emma Restall.  (2011).  The Wakeful World: Animism, the Mind and the Self in Nature.  Moon Books.

Sale, Kirkpatrick.  (2000)  Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision.  University of Georgia Press.

Recorded by Erin Holtz Braeckman

Pegi Eyers is the author of the award-winning book Ancient Spirit Rising: Reclaiming Your Roots & Restoring Earth Community, a survey on social justice, uncolonization, nature spirituality, earth-emergent healing and the holistic principles of sustainable living.  Pegi self-identifies as a Celtic Animist, and is an advocate for the recovery of authentic ancestral wisdom and traditions for all people.  She lives in the countryside on the outskirts of Nogojiwanong in Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg territory (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada), on a hilltop with views reaching for miles in all directions. 


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