“What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.
When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.”
– John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
Prologue: Into the Cave
He had entered the cave of spirits, the underworld. A place sacred to his people. It was his coming of age day after all, and he knew in order to become a hunter he would need to know the story of his people. He would need to face the ancestors in the depths of the underworld itself.
He was told not to bring any fire for he would be guided by the spirits. The darkness was oppressive, bearing down on him at all sides. The light growing dimmer from the entrance the deeper he went. Down down down until he was crawling, humbled by the immensity of this place, groping for the walls and the ground. It was as if She demanded it from you, to feel the helplessness, to feel like a newborn going back into the primordial womb of the land.
He thought he may have gotten lost, but he started to smell smoke wafting on the warm breath of the cave. How was it so warm down here when it was winter outside? The smoke smelt of burnt pine, and it grew stronger as he followed it. Still groping towards the walls, still hoping he wasn’t lost. Something about that smoke smelt of a long lost memory, of something that was familiar but not quite real to him.
Memories began to appear within his vision, somehow piercing through the darkness like waking dreams. Memories of a time and place he did not know but had seemed so familiar, like the stories told on winter nights around the fires.
A faint flickering began to ripple across the dark walls. He must have come around a bend and have seen the signs of fire. Shadows danced with the waves of light, and he could sense a little more. He could barely see the ground and walls and began to walk.
A drumbeat began to sound sending echoes throughout the cave. He knew he was getting close as his chest began reverberating. The beats began to gallop like the running of a four leg. The cave grew brighter and the shadows more pronounced, dancing to the flickers of light and the beatings of drums.
He made it around another corner when he saw them, the ancestors. Nine figures dressed as different animals, hunters and keepers of lore, all in communion as the ancestors themselves. And one of them had a pair of antlers on their head and was holding the light. He walked up to them and the drumming began to gallop faster, the light flicker more chaotically. The figure with the light pointed to the walls.
There upon the walls were the galloping animals running to the beat of the drum in a syncopated movement! The flickering light being covered and uncovered in odd ways across the cave wall, and wherever it shone the spirits moved along the wall. Back and forth, it kept happening.
He stood there shocked. The figure with antlers holding the light began to speak. He spoke of the spirits and the ancestors, the stories of the hunt, the ways of knowing of each animal. As he moved from one story to the next, he would move to a new animal, a new part of the history of his people. Deer knowing and horse knowing and lion knowing, he could see them move and hear them run. He could smell the woods and the plains they lived in. He could feel them there with him.
In that moment he was taken somewhere else, somewhere to another place but still within the cave. He was in the spirit of the cave, the great ancestor that held all the stories of his people. It pulsed with a rhythm he could feel bear down upon his body. He could see it and feel it talking to him, speaking not in the words of his people, but in the pure knowing of the stories themselves. He knew who he was at that moment, who his people were, how he fit into all of it. He knew what he was capable of. He knew how to be the creatures he hunted. He knew how speak like them and see like them. He knew the songs of their forest. The ancestors were speaking through him. And in the distance of all this knowing, something else lurked like a shadow of shadows. He reached out to it, beckoning, begging, needing to know more.
A being stepped out of the darkness, a being with antlers, bloody teeth and too many eyes. A being that reached out with a clawed hand covered in fur and roots, smelling of compost and blood. Sickly sweet. Smiling. Watching.
He had always been here, taking and giving, living and dying, protecting his people. He knew this Spirit.
And then, everything went dark…
Part 1. Of Roots and Caves
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up rooted, like trees.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s an old story. One that roots into the depths of our collective consciousness. One that grows up from the compost of our forgotten shadows. We all tend to ignore it in our own way, but it seems to always be here, affecting us in ways we have grown blind to. It has many names, I call it the mythic realm. Others call it the otherworld or the underworld. And I am here to see if we can’t tell its story again, but this time in a way that helps us better understand it.
I suppose it must be the trappings of dualism or modernity that have kept people from really peering into the depths of the mythic to uncover a more tangible reality looking back. Too often I see people speak of the otherworld or underworld as some place far removed from our own world. That somehow it exists as a wholly different ontological reality from our own. The civilized mindset tends towards a type of subjective idealism which obfuscates any solid historical and anthropological foundations that are necessary if we are to see just how the mythic realm was understood by a variety of cultures.
The western civilized conceptions of the mythic are sterilized and a bit disenchanted from an enlivened materiality which connects their stories to a living and animated world. Even modern claims to traditional folk wisdom are a bit fabricated, considering that many of the people that seek to claim authority on the subject have no real grounding in any solid cosmology that is freed from the bindings of substance dualism and subjective idealism (1). I have always found this notion to be upsetting and a bit escapist (2).
So I have decided that perhaps it is time I court the topic of the spirit realm under the lens of Interanimism, an enchanted naturalist philosophy that utilizes new materialism, animism and agential realism to build its metaphysical foundations. Instead of seeing the spirit world as a kind of far off place, perhaps it is time to root this mythic idea back into the sacred land from which it sprung, back into the enchanted materials that make up our tangible world. My basic premise is this: Relationality is the premise of existence, and to be relational means to be tangible, to have an affect and be affected by others. To be relational is to matter, and to matter is quite literally to be material. The spirit world, in order for it to have an affect on our world must be relational, and therefore it must have a place within the relational world itself, the physically tangible. If then the “regular world” exists as a product of a place’s interbeing, then how could the otherworld exist that way as well within the “regular world”? And if it does, then is there an ontological difference in the two, or is that just a product of a disenchanted consciousness due to the western influence of substance dualism? How can place and land contain within them the world of spirits?
This inquiry into the cosmology of the mythic realm has several parts, each connecting to the other, and all of them leading into the final conclusion in which I seek to unite the somatic and semiotic realms towards a non dual cosmology that includes the spirit realm as a part of the normal world.
Here I will explore:
The depth and animation of our existence. The senses and our phenomenological experiences. The influence that place and liminality have on the construction of worlds. The signs and symbols of a mythic realm by invoking semiotics. The minds and bodies of spirits. The dreaming states and mythic sensing required to see the otherworld.
All of this is towards seeking a cosmology that works within the Interanimist paradigm of non duality and an enlivened world. I try to support many of these notions with references and sources that are built upon deeper bodies of work which lend a depth and animacy to my over all inquiry.
Lets jump into the deep, shall we?
Part 2. Of Depth and Animation
“Here’s a principle to follow which will radically change your approach to everything; without it the world is alien and enemy and with it the world is kin and ally:
All observation is a conversation and attention is the tongue.” – Eric Chisler
To the Animist, the world is made up of persons or selves, that experience their own sense of being. They have a phenomenological experience unto themselves. Following this train of thought, we must look into some of the deeply embedded consequences of what it means to be a co-creative and interanimating force with our existence.
It is not merely our “selves” that interanimate the world, but everything that is relationary within it, all the selves. From the rocks to the wind, to the flora and fauna, we all have an affect on one another. But what I really want to touch upon here is the nature of what it means to interanimate; to animate something and be animated in turn. Just as the wind animates the voices of the trees by running through them and the trees change the nature of that wind, or just as it animates our own voices by vibrating your vocal chords as we impart waves of sound upon it, we become the outside force that can enliven another subject.
When all things have a sense of being, even if they appear as non living entities such as rocks, then even our contraptions and artifices can develop a sense of their own being. The very words we speak have unto them a sense of being upon the air, a mode of existing in relationship with those that hear it. There is within a single word an entire history of meaning and context, of intent of the speaker, and of the pure physical embodiment of them. Words are animistic and deeply connected to the animate beings they refer to (Abram 1996:95). In fact, we often mistake a word for something that merely goes out into the world disconnected from us, but in reality all of your words hold tight to your own interbeing, they are in many ways extensions of yourself, like threads entangling with whatever subjects are relating to them.
The world is an entangled depth. It holds within it reflections and echoes of the other. These depths and animacies hold a weight to them that press down upon the world and affects it in ways that change it inside and out. Whenever we look up into the night sky and see the depth of billions of years of our universe shining down upon us, the light that comes back into our eyes is not just a far off message from another time, but the extended wave of a star’s depth peering into our own bodies, a depth that spans into the bodies of time and space. We feel the stars through our own sensory perceptions, pressing into us, imprinting upon our being the stories and memories of a galactic drama. Their light that shines into us, their gravitational waves that ripple through our own location in space and time, are not just disembodied phenomenon projected and disconnected from the origin of their being, but are instead the extension of their being into us. We feel them as they feel us, in ways that push an effervescent weight down upon us.
Gravity is in many ways an experience of this depth, an imprinting upon, and so it is that all materials have gravitational waves that intermingle and press upon the other. Waves that crash upon one another into an eternal backdrop of cosmic integration. It is in reference to depth that weight is felt, for to be dragged into the depths is to feel the heaviness of the self and the other. We are dragged deep into the depths of places and things because our senses are tangled up in feeling them, and these feelings are entanglements with the relational world. We sense because we intra-act (3) with what we sense, we mutually affect one another.
Our own sensory perceptions are the tentacular feelers of the tangibility of these depths. Taste, touch, sound, scents, and seeing are not just windows into which we perceive the world around us, they are the doorways into which the world enters us and we enter it. Understanding ourselves as beings extended into the depths of place and yet at the same time co-creating these places is the first step to understanding that our sense of being is not of oneself but of many selves. These selves that are co-created, mingle and interchange with others, that in turn create a new alchemy of being and meaning, a new intermediary of individual. Just as we interanimate one another, just as our own identities emerge from a multitude of intra-acting entities, so do the spirits emerge out of the interplay of self and other. Other forces which seem to be mechanistic deterministic flows of power can be entirely re-enchanted as forces of being, mediums of place and memory, that formulate the systems by which we operate.
Intelligences can thus exist as new beings of animation, agencies that can affect others in turn as they too can be affected. Indeed they bubble up from the concatenation of intra-actions, with degrees of place and embedded memory. Taking on properties from beings we would assume as others. It is the same for you as a holobiont (Haraway 2016:60), taking on a sense of self from the multitude of micro-organisms that make up your body. These spirits, these agents, take on a sense of self from the bodies of other agents as well. As all bodies are places unto themselves embedded into a holarchy of places, these spirits are merely externalized degrees of intelligence that are animated when they come into a mutual inspiration with other intelligences.
My inquiry and working hypothesis is as follows: Spirits are beings that operate on a different level of mediation. They become liminal agents in-between the embodied agents. Their intelligence, their animacy, thus requires an intra-active attribute provided by embodied beings. Their bodies become the mythos of those physical networks, the collective story of those beings.
Part 3. Of Sound and Silence
As we move into exploring the animacy of beings embodied by stories of network rather than the physical networks themselves, I would like for us to invoke the wisdom of echoes. There was an article written a while back hypothesizing that ancient people mistook their echoes for the voices of spirits or gods (Shim 2014). Of course the tone of the article was one of derision, viewing this as superstitious and ignorant, however if we were to reimagine the depth to this notion, perhaps the ignorance was on part of the analysts who decided to assume they knew better. Let us delve into this world of sound and silence, let us explore an enchanted view of echo, building up first from a sensual perspective into that of an animist cosmology.
Echoes are not just the reflection of sounds, but they are the representation that a part of you has in effect intra-acted with a place, was changed by the place, and has for all practical purposes become an extension of place itself. What we have first assumed to be an echo of something we “put out” there, is on second thought, a much more complicated arrangement of being. An entanglement of self and other. A new emergent being shaped and formed not only by the self, but by the very contours of the land. Caverns and hills become the painters upon the canvas of your voice, imprinting upon it their own type of words.
It is always the way of western reductionists to seek some kind of truth to what lies behind enchantment, to effectively disenchant and gut the beauty from it. So what if spirit voices were the echoes coming off the cavern walls? Was your voice not itself touching and relating to the curvature of the cavern? Was it not caressed and entangled with formations of ancient beings? Was there not already a phenomenological sense of awe and wonder when entering into the depths of something so ancient as a cave?
I know in my own studies with echoes, playing music for the places around me, I have often felt the return of my humming strings to be imbued with all the beings that have felt its vibratory magic. To play for the cave, to play for the rock beings and the whistling winds that ebb and flow in their structure, you find very quickly that your echoes do not belong to you anymore. They belong to something else. Something ancient. And all your music becomes a symphony with the earth. Your own song harmonized in tune with the place is itself a kind of echo of the place’s voice. We are all echoes of a kind.
Echoes are more than just a sound being reflected, they can be sounds that are mimicked as well. Take the Cottonwood for instance, a relative of the Willow and a lover of water. Their leaves sound like the pattering of rain, like a calling to the water they yearn so much to imbibe. I find it poetically enchanting that these trees adore water and have evolved to sound like water. They have a vertically flat peticole that runs perpendicular to the leaf, allowing the leaves to sway from side to side, giving them that iconic watery sound while similarly creating illusory ripples in the way their leaves refract light, almost like that of rippling water.
These sounds are a voice. A voice that is so intrinsically connected to their love for water that they have evolved to vocalize it in the echoes of their own structural patterns. They are the symbolic indices of the flows of rivers and babbling brooks they tend to grow by. They are adept at turning the wind into water. I have seen them first hand pray to the storms that come in with wind and rain, a prayer that blended in the percussive pattering upon the winds with new tonalities of earth gushing babbles. Cottonwoods are one of the most magical trees I have had the pleasure to know (4). They are a well orchestrated voice of the land, calling out upon the wind with the haunting echoes of water. The Sioux believe their singing to be prayers to the Mystery, and I think that may in fact be the case here.
The formation of life itself, of all animacy, is the call and response of an interrelating world. What gives you sensory perception and understanding are the diffractions and reflections of a variety of sensual mediums. Echoes are also hauntings, memories embedded into the very fabric of a place. These memories carry with them the sounds and information of the past. In sacred places you feel it without quite knowing why. You become possessed with a feeling that permeates your sensory perceptions. Old buildings and old towns call out with voices from long ago, like ancient echoes giving voice to their stories. Sometimes these echoes call out to be heard like the haunted towns of an old world, and sometimes they call out in praise of what they are like the cottonwood trees. Sometimes they are yearning to sing with the inhabitants of a place, to harmonize with it as a way to be interanimated and enlivened, to be known and appreciated.
As an example of how intelligence emerges as a spirit, let us take into account a musical jam session, wherein many musicians gather to play by ear. Many factors come into play, the types and skills of musicians, the instruments, and the place itself. Whatever place it may be, whether an old bar or an ancient cavern, there is history and story embedded into its construct. It is not merely a location or a coordinate that they sit in, somehow devoid of participation, but is itself the very place by which acoustics will absorb and reflect into the orchestration of the song. It is an active participant of this jam session.
As the musicians begin to play, they each pick out a tune that seems to fit together. It may take some time as they grow accustomed to each other, but after some tuning in, they manage to “click”. In this state of musical flow, a musician is in a type of trance. They are somehow following another musician who is in turn following another musician until it comes full circle, and in many cases it is a circle where one can not discern where it begins or ends. But even though a network of body and sound has been created, a place is indefinitely present. We may not know the beginning or ending of this jam circle, but we do know where and what we are embedding within this network.
It is at this point that the “jam” becomes its own entity, an egregoric muse which emerges as an intermediary of intelligence of network and place, coordinating these people to play note after note. The song takes on a life of its own, like a story that moves its listeners and is moved by them in turn. Sure the musician is integral to this co-creative jam, but the musician has attained a state of being that is neither following or leading, rather he has become a co-creative interbeing, a part of something bigger. There is a spirit in their midst that has become the connective liminal agency of the jam session. A spirit of place and interbeing. At that moment, when a musician remembers themselves, when they try to take the reigns of the session itself, everything begins to fall apart. The music runs out. The flow is gone. And a silence descends. A kind of empty pit that once held a flowing something, another being. Gone.
This happens in drum circles quite often. The echoing beats vibrating through everyone, pulsating into a massive intelligent being. And once one person drops the beat, the whole circle unwinds. The person who drops the beat looks at who they were following, asking why they dropped off as well. The glaring accusation runs full circle, everyone was apparently following everyone else. Everyone was apparently leading as well. Everyone was simultaneously controlling and letting go. They were with something else. Something mythic. They were with a “muse”.
This is not uncommon in all aspects of orchestration, when one is capable of flowing with any medium. Whether it be dance, painting, music, cooking or any other art form, a muse can arise to intermediate between a person/people, a place and the stories being embedded into their place. Echoes are indeed a way that spirits speak, and it is with this theme that we shall explore another kind of medium of being.
Part 4. Of Light and Shadow
I was driving down a dark country road one night, a bit dreary from a long day. As I turned a corner I was startled to see what appeared to be a giant troll like creature with bright red hair coming at me. As I slowed and flipped on my brights, curious about this weird roadside encounter, I realized that what I saw was a tree turning red for Fall. What a strange occurrence to have happened, a quiet night on a country road and an immediate sense of warning as I came across a bright red tree. At first glance one would assume that it was my mind playing tricks on me, but was it? How much of my startlement was a result of a faulty cognition process, and how much of it was a connection to dream time letting me know that I had angered a slumbering giant? Could it be both?
It was then I realized something incredibly important. Fall is when the veil thins because there is a qualitative difference in the experience of transition occurring within your local ecology. As the trees turn colors, they absorb different forms of light. So rather than having just the normal green light reflected back at you, you now get a variety of light spectrums being reflected. Meaning that your world is literally shaded in different ways that you were not accustomed to. Your entire perception and placement of beings in your local world shifts dramatically and drags you for a short time into living with the liminality of the season.
Now rather than just reducing this to a chemical process, if we were to consider this from an Animist’s point of view, this is a conversation the trees are having. Using light to help them display their sense of being. Helping them not only to absorb light, but also to be a semiotic indicator of Fall and the coming of winter for the rest of the land. So this turning of color is not only a means to acquire a more steady, although slower, source of photosynthesis, but also it becomes a means for animals of the land to see and understand important aspects of their environment from a shared sense of phenomenology.
The trees are in a literal conversation with the world around them. This light mingling with all the various colors of its turning is “tricking” the eye to see things that are usually not what it was used to seeing. But is it really a trick? Or is our ability to see patterns in the tree’s leafy fireworks just a form of taking more complex signs and simplifying them into personas that help us better understand them? Do tree spirits manifest themselves in those liminal spaces between the perceptions of tree and human as a type of waking dream symbol that helps us better understand our subconscious conversations with the trees? A conversation that our civilized mind would otherwise be too constricted to enter into?
Could it be that the veil thins in the Fall because this is when the largest aspect of movement occurs within the hedges? The trees turning and falling, the creatures roaming and calling, the myriad of color changes and light variations occurring with them. It would seem to me that the Fall is also a time when creatures of all kinds also share some of the deeper patterns of symbolism with the land. The preparation for winter and the harvesting of the land is the most conscious in the Fall. The impact of the bright red and yellow falling leaves have on the creatures of the land would be more profound at this time. It would mean something of dire importance. Spring is the only other time such transition occurs with such color, except in the Spring we are moving away from death while in the Fall that is our common destination.
With the changing spectrums of light come the deeply embodied shadows of things. The interplay of shadows and light are a big part of how we perceive the world’s animation. Just as in the story of the cave, the stories of ancestors come to life with the interplay of light, shadow, and the bodies of various things. The cave paintings of France are said to be the first documented case of this type of animated art form (Zorich). However this was more than just art, this was the story of the hunt which held a very sacred significance to the culture. Inside a place of spirits, the sorcerers brought to life the ancestors. They were moved by the beings of story to such an extent that one would have to question what exactly they captured to animate the animals the way they did. Was it because these sorcerers could embody the spirits of these animals on the ancient walls of ancestors that they were then able to move them? What does it mean to capture the spirit of the animal?
To animate the walls with captured spirits using the ingredients of light and shadow is no doubt a mastering of sorcery, but that was not the only ingredient to the alchemy of flow which produced spirits. Echoes within the cavern added weight to the experience. The drums that were the sounds of hooves. The reflections of sound that turned one animals four legged run into a multitude, into a stampede. These were all a part of calling upon the spirit of the hunt and animating the stories of the ancestors. In between this liminal space of cavern, lights, shadows, echoes and people, was an age old cultural intelligence. The spirit of a people. Perhaps even a god. Imbued not only with light, sound and place, but with the thousands of stories which made a culture what it was. This being was the intelligence that carried with it a vast history by which people could interact and feel a sense of the ancient scope of what made them a united people. In many ways, it seems to have acted as a cultural familiar. To an animist where all aspects of being are undergoing phenomenological experiences, these animations were alive, real, tangible spirits.
There is here an interesting intersection of worlds occurring. Not only is there a loosely embodied and phenomenological aspect to this emergent being we call a spirit, but there seems to me a kind of dreamy intelligence as well. Spirits seem to emerge as beings that help intermediate the conversations between persons both human and more than human, liminal intelligences that guide and communicate in the mythic realm. They appear to us as dreamlike symbolism because it is in that fluid dream like intelligence that our subconscious mind is picking up the myriad of languages being exchanged in the mythic realm. It is within the ever communicating reality of the more than human world that we are able to tap into a shared phenomenology and enter the waking dream of the land.
Part 5. Of Place and Liminality
One of the key components to my inquiry is the role that land, specifically the aspect of place and its non human constituents, play in the creation of spirits. We have many examples throughout history and myth which touches upon the land and the intelligences of the land being intrinsically connected to the emergence of spirits. I think perhaps by understanding “place” and how place affects and co-creates the individual, we will have a better understanding of the formation of spirits and the mythic dreamlike realm they inhabit.
The concept of place goes beyond mere topology or geography, it is not a simple matter of definition, but rather place is a network of intra-active happenings, senses of being, cultural and ecological precedences; mattering that matters and remembers. A place “gathers” up stories and beings that play those stories out, evolving and living in a sympoietic exchange (Casey 1996:24-25). “Lived bodies belong to places and help constitute them” just as places help to form and guide those lived bodies (Casey 1996:24). Place and agent interanimate one another. (Or as Keith Basso also puts it [1996:55], “As places animate the ideas and feelings of persons who attend them, these same ideas and feelings animate the places on which attention has been bestowed…”) One can easily see this in our need for a place’s ability to provide for us. From food to shelter, stories to ancestors, entire aspects of our existence and our culture are not only gathered but held together by place. These cultures and unique perspectives are indicative and reflective of the place in which they live. People who live in a desert develop cultural nuances indicative of desert living, people who live on islands have affinities for an island type culture etc.
Places are not just the physical locations, but all of the cultural and felt implications that come with it. A sense of place is a felt experience not only by humans, but by all the agents that are emplaced within its ecology. These agents not only have a felt experience of place unique to themselves, but because their evolution and survival depends upon the interplay of the place and its constituent beings, they also have overlapping perspectives that create an intersubjective phenomenological experience of place. There are multiple layers and depths to the intersubjective phenomenological experience of place that are “more than human”.
What tends to be a common motif of place is that it holds together memories in the very fabric of its interbeing. The acts of the past exist as echoes that project into the potentialities of the future. Place manifests with it its own bubble of perceived space time (Casey 1996:36-38). The memories of itself tend to become recursive and thus allow its past to spiral into the future like cycles of mythic ecology. By this I mean that hauntings of the past, as discussed previously, abound in the place, and might even set a precedent that causes the place to continue carrying out its history into the present as recurring motifs (Chalquist 2007:57-58).
It is no wonder why in myth and in anthropology the spirits are closely tied to the land or the physical processes of the world. The ancient fairy faith of the Celts was a type of animism that provided them a mythos and a narrative to speak the languages of the land. The Irish Sidhe were called the people of the mounds, they were essentially inhabitants inside the land itself. Even the word “sidhe” means hills or mounds. The mounds and landmarks of the ancient Celtic world still persist to this day, closely connected to the stories that are said to embody them (Callieach’s Herbarium). It is in these stories that animist cultures had embedded what an alternate perception of a shared intersubjective semiotic world could consist of. A place isn’t just the physical world, it is layers and layers of mythic ecology.
With place comes the concept of horizon, borders of liminal space that are neither here nor there. Places beyond place that neither hold nor gather but rather serve as a function to transit agencies into other places. If places serve to become the locations by which multi specie cultures intersect somatically and semiotically, liminal places are the transitory borders that serve to discern place from place through the phenomenological experience of being “out of place”. These borders are not borders of pure delineation, but of wild co-mingling of the agencies on the horizons of place.
The hedge has always been a brilliant metaphor for wild liminal edges, places that are neither here nor there. They were markers of borders but also veils between worlds. What was inside the hedge was far more mysterious than what was on the other side, the liminal edges were defined by what was hidden, examples of future possibilities or beings beyond control, the embodiment of mystery. To venture into the hedge was to go beyond the known horizons of place. But just as hedges were physically known markers of place, what kind of liminal horizons exist in the cultural ecology of a place that manifested from the interplay intersubjective phenomenologies? What sort of dimension existed where we could not immediately sense somatically? This world of abstract degrees, of loosely cobbled together more than human meanings and purposes, would be a languid and porous dream time. A place that was neither past nor present, fully embodied or disembodied, here nor there.
It was at these borders of place, these liminal horizons, that a mythic ecology manifests itself. From the literal in between land sites to the the multi spectrum depths of alternate phenomenologies, it was at the borders that the spirit world has traditionally existed. These borders were not separate from our reality, but rather were at the very core of what defined it. It was in between the human worlds and the more than human worlds that the shaman would operate with the spirits (Abram 1996:6).
The purpose of understanding Place and Liminality is to help us understand how our phenomenological perceptions of a place manifest and interweave with the more than human world. To explore a world of spirits we must come to understand what that world actually is, we must pose the question: is the world of spirits an actual “other world” completely independent of our own, or is it instead a perception of the world that has manifested differently and is thus operating on a different depth or layer to the same physical reality we are currently in?
Think for a moment about bees who see in different spectrums of light, or who see the magnetic fields of flowers. What do you suppose such a world looks like to them? What kind of conversation are they engaged in with a living world? How well can they converse and understand across species lines? Their perception of their worlding is entirely unique and definitely different from our own. How they create meaning and purpose are wholly an aspect of their bee life in regards to the place they exist within. Their semiotic world would be different than our own, but quite curiously connected to it! How the bee perceives the environment is in affect connected to the environments general tendencies and habits, which create links into how we ourselves perceive that environment. It is in the places that these trans-agential phenomenologies overlap that new forms emerge to take on the deeper animacies of place.
Let us direct our attention from place and our sense of place, towards the implications of the intersubjective sense of place that goes beyond human perception. What type of world can we find by delving deeper into the mythic realms of shared phenomenology? How exactly do these spirits, the subjects of our inquiry, exist and operate?
Part 6. Of Dreams and Symbols
As was mentioned earlier, a place is constituted by a multitude of various beings. Persons that are both animate and inanimate, but all these persons are in some way or another corporeal. They have forms that are physical, whether their physicality is of a high degree of interactive tangibility with the environment or is more porous and reliant upon events and synchronicities of that environment is of course I believe the degrees to which something becomes more “spirit-like” in quality. What I am trying to suss out here is a generalized ontology of spirits and the spirit world, on the qualities and facets of their beings as mythic dreamlike entities.
In Eduardo Kohn’s, How Forests Think- Towards an Anthropology Beyond the Human, he lays out a very useful hypothesis of an anthropology beyond the human by utilizing semiotics. Semiology is the study of signs and symbols. Kohn utilized semiology by coming to understand how the forest and the creatures within it share a network of signs on being and identity. Semiology has a complex design that separates signs into various sub signs (5), but for the sake of simplifying the concept here I am going to refer to signs as symbols as we all have a loose understanding of symbols as being representations of something else.
According to Kohn, the world we inhabit is chock full of symbolic references. Art is a symbolic reference. Language is a reference. Sounds, colors, culture, and a variety of other things hold to some variety of symbolism in the waking material word. Within forests this is also the case. Animals in the forest all understand the symbolism of predator and prey, they all understand the symbolic references to water, they understand references to death, and birth, and a whole variety of tangible icons. If you were an animal roaming about the plains seeking water and shelter, and you hear the pitter pattering of rainfall without any rain actually falling, you may just look around to see if giant cottonwood is nearby. This tree acts as an symbol that references to water nearby, as a cottonwood is usually always found near water. This type of symbolic reference is biosemiotic, felt and understood in a very somatic way.
Symbolic references abound within the world around us because much of how we come to understand the world isn’t just through somatic experiences of feeling that world, but also of the semiotic experiences that help us to understand and index that world in ways that help us to organize our mind like qualities. I do not, as Khon seems to do, believe that only semiotics defines what makes a person a person. A rock according to this doesn’t contain animacy or personhood, which I find to be a very limited understanding of animism. Also it seems he misjudges the somatic experiences ability to be the foundation of symbolism and story. The whole reason symbols can exist and develop meaning is because they are physically and phenomenologically relevant to the existence of any person, whether that person be animal, plant or mineral. Only a proper unity between semiology and phenomenology can help us to get at the core of what the spirits are.
I would like to suggest that the corporeal aspect of semiotic beings, or spirits, exist as forms. Forms are patterns that exist on a higher level of embedded hierarchy which become symbolic representations of place and its constituents. They are higher orders of semiotic networks. As these patterns are formed and become with its myriad of interweaving constituents, the forms themselves become an alternate level of intermediary intelligence. They are not in any way stagnant or solid but rather porous in their embodiment. In this way the symbolic dreamlike realm also has a sense of enlivement to it. The symbols exist as being rooted into the living world. Not only that, but they create overarching patterns and forms that create feedback loops with any agents that happen to be codependent with them.
The creation of patterns necessitate a sense of end directedness with the constituency that created them. Once this end directedness becomes habitual in the constituent due to the overarching emergent gains or synergy produced by the pattern, a precedence is set in the relationary fabric of the ecology causing the constituency to further embed itself into the mythic pattern. It is here that the constituency lives to serve and protect the pattern and vice versa. An ecosystem is itself a type of pattern with embedded memory and a need for balance amongst its constituents. The form then acts as an intermediary intelligence that can guide the constituency within its storied capacity. A semiotic mycelium which helps to send messages to and fro between agencies.
Hunters are a good example of this in that they follow tracks and patterns of the species they hunt, or even peer into the overarching patterns of the forest that their prey are guided by. A hunter sometimes can follow the patterns of its preys life such as where they gather, where they mate, where the forest allows them to drink. In this way they are not specifically tracking the prey but rather tracking the patterns of the prey’s story within the overarching paradigm of the forests intelligence. By following these patterns of story, these mythic intermediaries, they are in affect guided by spirits of the forest which help them hunt (Khon 2013:163). Another example of this can be seen in the story of the Glastaig who guides hunters and protects her deer (Blackie 2017). By following this mythic being, this overarching pattern of the forest, they ensure a bountiful hunt with no repercussions. But by ignoring the patterns of the mythic beings, the symbolic forms of communication, they enter the forest without the ability to speak to it which leads to all sorts of disorder and destruction.
The ancient myths were stories to live by for a reason. Born out of necessity and survival, born out of communication with the land itself. To follow the stories was to live within the patterns of place. It meant to be in communion with the land and its beings, which was to be guided by the spirits. If these spirits wished these hunters to be preyless, they would then guide the prey to safety through clear patterns of the overarching stories of hunters. An over hunted wood takes on the signs and semblances of death and foreboding. Too many broken branches, the smells of blood, a lack of vibrancy and sound. There is a break in the pattern here, and it is displaying itself openly to the prey. It is by these breaks in the common ecology that a sense of “wrongness” (amoral) can develop. When things are not where they were, it gives the constituents of the place the ability to take note of a problem that may be arising. Their ability to recognize these symbols and these patterns of place were the result of the steady evolution within an interanimistic paradigm. It was because minding was a shared property of being that beings could seek patterns and signs to direct their futures.
The world of symbols is the mythic dreamlike realm I have been referring to throughout this essay. Symbols are not really simple objects apart from a codependent world, but seem to be the very marker of complexity and end directedness of a purposeful interdependent reality. Because this world exists as a codependent mutually interwoven realm with the somatic one, it isn’t dualistic. Patterns, forms, archetypes, emergent references and stories are all a part of this dreamlike mythic realm. They are what compose the beings and ecologies of this realm. They are necessarily interanimated by the more tangibly embodied agents that they connect with because they exist within different spectrums of interanimation.
Symbols and signs exist in the realm of interconnection. It is relationship that gives rise to them and it stays in this ecology of myth. If all the beings of a culture were to die, then so do the semiotics. This does not make them less real, on the contrary this makes them even more real, as realness is not an ontological separateness but rather it is dictated by relationality. Just as if water were to disappear we would all die, then if were to die, semiotes that depend upon us would also die. Now would this mean that all semiotics are human derived? No far from it. Semiotics arises in networks of the more than human world as well. But just as an ecology has the power to shape its beings and its beings have the power to shape the ecology, it can also shape semiotics as well. The agencies which co-constitute a place also play a role in adapting and interacting with the symbolism of place.
Evidence of this abounds in our natural world. When indigenous languages die, so do thousands of years of traditional ecological knowledge. While aspects of how to speak and commune with the land die out, the land is often the first to suffer. Without the intermediary sorcerer to keep the human community in check, overarching patterns of the land are ignored and entire bioregions are destroyed. Traditional ecological knowledge finds its way into the semiotic cultures of indigenous people (Stringer). Languages for instance, tend to be animated by the environment. The Kaluli people, Runa people, the Koyukon people, all have types of words that are direct correlations in onamonapia to beings or landscapes they exist within (Khon 2013:31, Abram 1996:147). Their languages are pulled directly from the sounds of the landscape, and within those languages exist the signs and omens that can help them interpret their own future. The words they create are done out of a correlation not only with each other, but with the places they inhabit, because places are at the foundation of who they are as indigenous people.
If we can understand that what may be symbolic to us may in fact have its own phenomenological experience within the somatic realm, and that these semiotic beings somatically feel as well, and that they are a co-creative semiotic being from not just humans but the more than human world, then in this regard the difference is not ontological but rather phenomenological. It is now within the minds and bodies of self and spirits that we must explore to understand how these beings emerge and interact with us.
Part 7 Of Mind and Body
If the mythic realm is one composed of story and symbolism that is alive and intimately connected to the intersubjective phenomenological experiences of the multitudes that co-constitute a place’s mythic ecology, then it seems to me that these symbolic references themselves could create types of more-than-human cultures that could act as overarching intelligences of the biotic community. Between the tree and forest there could arise not only interconnective fungal tissues that act as symbiotic nervous systems of mind, but also emergent agencies of mythic intelligence that exist as the semiotic culture of those tree systems. These intermediary informational beings would be embedded into the very fabric of that community through the intra-actions of that community. Their corporeal being is not itself separate from the interbeing of the community, they exist on greater degrees of abstract emergence, and yet maintain a quality of external intelligence able to be of accessible mythic intelligence for the beings that interconnect.
Just as the jam session produces an emergent entity of mythic intelligence that guides the musicians, so too can the interbeing of biotic systems create emergent entities that act as the intermediary intelligences between the mythic and somatic realms. On larger scales we have such patterned forms as “bioregional intelligences” that act to balance out the local ecosystems. They embed memory of proper modes of interbeing in order to maintain some sense of balance within the ecosystem itself. Such bioregional intelligence can be found within cultures of indigenous beings that have within their own language traditional forms of ecological knowledge. They have within their culture entire symbolic realms dedicated to the bioregion in which they exist, a living mythos which guides them and sets up rules on how to deal with the local spirits. These rules always come to be echoes of ecological function between humans and the place. Furthermore the more than human world has cultures of beings that have within their own modes of operation abilities to pass on traditional ecological knowledge as well. Such as tribes of Orca people that teach different types of hunting techniques specific to their locations, or packs of Wolf people that are able to utilize their wolf phenomenology in order to practice conservationary techniques to heal the ecosystems.
These beings don’t just mechanically operate with the bioregions they exist in by their mere instinct alone. They are actively participating in communion with their environment. They are actively seeking to correspond with the overarching mythic intelligences that are their cultural totemic intermediaries. These beings exist with them and to help them because they are embedded into the network of their biotic community. Totemism is itself a type of familiar spirit and ancestor communion. In fact many indigenous traditions find kinship with various animal cultures because they understand those animals semiotic interface and actually build their culture off of it. They share place and interbeing with the more than human world, and are guided by totemic spirits that act as the intermediaries between the humans and their animal partners. Evolution is not just a mechanistic cause and effect phenomenon, but rather it is totemic (Abram 1996:123, Thiem 10/2017). It holds with it the meaning making inherent to life in regards to the myriad of beings that help co-create one another and share in a communal semiology, which is rooted in their evolutionary links to a shared ancestor’s phenomenological experiences (Abram 1996:168, Thiem 10/2017). It may not be teleological in the grand sense of the term, but it certainly is purpose driven. This is because it is ultimately the phenomenon of the environment communicating with the beings that exists within it. It is relationary and interanimating.
Forms of semiotic being within the mythic realm are creatures of meaning and purpose, of symbolic reference, rooted into the the communities in which they are able to maintain their existence. Just as we humans must root into the land or into our community in order to survive, so too must the spirits root into various communities of place. Just because their existence is more porous, informational, dreamlike and less physically dense, does not detract from the truth of a real corporeal ontology here. “Spirits” are not some type of disembodied beings that exist in an ectoplasmic realm somewhere beyond the land, this idea is a flawed Western conception of indigenous notions of “spirit”, mainly due to the rift in cosmology created by the Christian Church and Cartesian Dualism on the western mindset. This idea that flesh and spirit were somehow polar opposites is not a shared concept in more indigenous cultures. Abram notes that his encounter with ants was “the first of many experiences suggesting to [him] that the “spirits” of an indigenous culture are primarily those modes of intelligence or awareness that do not possess a human form” (Abram 1996:13-16) In order to really understand why and how spirits exist, we need to come to an understanding of mind and being that fit into an inter-animist cosmology.
The mind is not something that is contained but rather it is an intra-active aspect of your interbeing (Thiem 5/2017). We are just as much co created by the world as it is by us. Our mind, our agency, our sense of being, comes from our ability to relate to the world and to be interanimated by it, and if our mind is not just a self contained unit but rather an interplay of feedback loops, then mind-ness is an emergent and extended attribute of our relationality. The phenomenological experience is not “mind” but the relationary somatics of agency. Mind is rather a kind of dreaming, it is the semiotic that has concresced into something more tangible, into a solid map of meaning, a key that allows you to reference the world around you like an information interface. Agency is the ability to intra-act, and in affect mutually constitute the phenomenological experience of the other by being affected and affecting in turn. Or in Barad’s words, “agency is a matter of intra-acting; it is an enactment, not something that someone or something has (Barad 2007:179).
To an Interanimist, the world is abundant in agency. This is because all materials are agential. Material manifests as the agential experience. So as our agency operates through reality, it is in effect communing with reality. It is a conversation with the universe that is left open for discovery. Every thought is a sensual act of communion. Every act is itself a phenomenological experience. The biggest problem people have in coming to terms with this, is the proposed radical re-conception of mind and self. In the older models of mind there is a disconnect between knowing and being. As if the knower could somehow contain the truth within a mind which was someplace immaterial, a spirit disconnected from the physical, disconnected from the web which forms their entire being. The very same being necessary for the ability to process and sense the information which lends to the emergence of mind in the first place. Like a disembodied homunculus. But within the paradigm of Interanimistic thought, knowing and being are an inseparable phenomenon. Meaning that our mind is not just containing intelligence but rather it flows through intelligence as it emerges. It is a “medium in which we’re situated, and from which we are simply unable to extricate ourselves without ceasing to exist.” (Abram 2010:125)
To contain “truth” as a separate unit within the web of our Interbeing is like saying a whale can swallow the ocean. Such a notion is absurd. Our agency is a material phenomenon that manifests whenever material undergoes integration. It is our entanglements that make us emerge into what we are. We must only take down the preposterous notion that matter is somehow separate from agency. This is the core of what it means to be an enchanted materialist, all is Mind because Matter is Minding and Minding Matters to the Mattering of Mind. Knowing and being are inseparable. The physical is the agential, and inside that agential experience is the dreamtime filled with the richness of myth and symbolism, the mythic realm.
The point I am trying to make is that mind and being are inseparable. The mind exists because being operates within an ecology of beings that utilize signs and symbols to reference one another. The whole reason we can know that something is happening here or there is because we are intra-acting with it. Mind is another layer, another atmosphere within which we take part in. Your ability to perceive the world around you relies on the world interacting with you, being tangible with you. Your ability to interpret signs relies upon this process of interanimation in order for your to come to be reactive to the signs in the first place. Just as the wind blows through the leaves if the trees so that the trees can speak and sing songs of the land, the atmospheric quality of mind emerges from all the embedded processes of the interplay between the somatic and semiotic. Spirits have mind because they are in relationship, echoing our own perceptions, the perceptions of other living beings. Spirits have body because they are rooted into the physical networks of other living beings, becoming the symbolic references to their lived experience. Spirits are a result of interanimation. They are the mythic ecology becoming aware of itself. Abram examines this interanimated phenomena of mind and body as such:
“The full-bodied alertness I now felt seemed no more mine than it was the valley’s; it seemed a capacity of the land itself that had been imparted to my body. Much as life then beating in my chest and rolling through my veins was fed by the mountain air if that place(by the calm or blustering atmosphere that surrounds us wherever we are, and that we’ve been imbibing, ceaselessly, since the moment of our birth). Is not awareness, too, a kind of medium or atmosphere- a capacity that blooms within us, swelling and subsiding, only because we are penetrated by it, encompassed by it, permeated? Are we not born into mind as into an unseen layer of the Earth, gradually opening ourselves to the nourishment of this medium, adapting ourselves to its lunar rhythms, aligning ourselves with the way it glimmers and sings in our particular species?” (Abram 2011:124)
So if our phenomenological sense of being is what gives us our partition of self and other, yet it arises out of an interplay of our relational existence, then what other types of phenomenological experiences exist to give rise to loosely embodied, more porous selves? And if it is true that semiotic beings have phenomenological perspectives rooted into the sensual place fields in which their agents inhabit because they too intra-act and interanimate with other agencies, then what kind of places do these things co-create that are beyond the spectrum of our own waking minds?
Part 8. Of Otherworlds and Underworlds
It would seem to me that if agency is the ability to respond to an immersive sensual environment because a tangible being is affecting and being affected by other tangible beings, even if those beings were mythic ones, that there isn’t so much an alternate dimension as it is alternate “spectrums” of phenomenological experience, rooted deeply into the material world of interanimism. Where in the agencies of the spirits are merely liminal intermediaries between us and the more than human world. I speculate that the “other world is this world rightly seen” (Nisargadatta).
Being that our phenomenological experiences exist within certain spectrums of semiosis, I postulate that there is actually no real ontological difference between the otherworld, underworlds or normal worlds. The difference is merely phenomenological in scope and because of this the boundaries that separate them are located not in geographical or topological locations, but in our own semiotic mindings. It would appear as if “what the conscious mind is trained to see as non living places and things, the unconscious mind reacts to as animated presences and metaphors” (Chalquist 2007:9). The liminal borders of the other world are on the horizons of the waking mind, and it is in the dreaming mind, where trance takes hold, that the worlds connect and can be experienced.
In her book, Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits, Elma Wilby makes a very solid case anthropologically over the state of the other worlds and its inhabitants. By taking case studies of shamanic practices throughout the world and comparing them to the witch trials of England, she compiled an array of evidence to show that not only did shamans access the other world through altered states of consciousness, but that many of the witch trials corroborated this same dreamlike quality to the otherworld (Wilby 2013:167-68). In other words, much of the ancient fairy faith traditions so romanticized in English folklore was a type of shamanic and animistic method of communion with the spirit world, a world that resided not in another plane of existence, but within the dreaming Earth itself!
As I said earlier, there seem to be strong links between the land and the mythic realms. Such as the mythos of the fairy mounds was one in which the Tuatha De Danaan entered into the land and resided inside of it. Or the mythos of many underworld beliefs were actually considered to be literally underfoot. Considering that the land is where we returned to when we die, it is not farfetched to believe that any animist culture would take it quite literally that their ancestors would become spirits of the land themselves. For example, the myth of the Banshee is a good indicator of the role that the Sidhe play in marking the dead. There are also the stories of the Norse ancestors either living in the land or becoming the Alfr. Another example of the land and mythic realm connection comes from the Aboriginal people of Australia through their living tradition of songlines which told the story of the land in the dreamtime. (Abram 1996:168-70) Or what of the Runa, who drew direct connections between the land of the masters which was their dream world and the forest itself. A land where the spirits lived and would come to visit you in your dreams or in the waking world as Runa Puma, ferocious predators who were the pets of the Masters. (Kohn 2013:140-141)
The other worlds were always in this world, and its inhabitants have always been here as well. Ancestors and spirits are deeply entangled in several mythologies and indigenous traditions, and the common root to both of these beings is the land itself, the world as it was and is. When we die, our stories are woven into the place in which we inhabit. (Thiem 10/2017) We become a part of that place, body and all. And this becoming is at the heart of the underworld, and perhaps even the other world.
The mythic realm is a type of dreaming reality. It is populated with signs, symbols, indices, references etc. of an interconnected somatic world. It isn’t that this world somehow exists separate from us, because rather it is interdependent with it, it depends upon the lower embeddedness of our waking world in order for it to even exist. But to try and partition it as a somehow separate worlding would be a grave mistake. It is a material world first and foremost, it is just that its materiality exists as events and happenings and interconnections between more tangible substances. Furthermore it is so entangled with the somatic world and its physical states, that it isn’t merely a hierarchy of embedded states but rather a holarchy of interbeing, where one might be a sign for a biological entity, that sign might actually be a subset of meaning to an entity that is biologically organized to enfold it. For instance the cell has signs that help it create a sense of purpose, but these signs are not partitioned in a world of signs where by they become mere stepping stones to greater signs, rather they create interwoven feedback loops with the somatically felt world and become an integral part of that world’s ability to stabilize.
We must be cautious not to assume it a dualistic substance, for it is neither dualistic in substance nor in attribute. The somatic is the phenomenological world and the semiotic is the symbolic world but the two can not operate independently of one another. They are interanimate. Because of this we are merely seeing emergence at play. The semiotic is dependent on the somatic in order to maintain itself, but can in turn provide the somatic with higher orders of story for it to guide the somatic world.
This is what I mean by entering into the mythic realm. It is by being able to seek the connections between the two spectrums of worlding that we are able to live in a constant and refreshing narrative. But this mythic realm has with it other orders of phenomenological experience felt in porous and abstract rates of spacetime. It is a common theme that in aboriginal Dreamtime, Irish fairy realms, or in Runa master worlds, that space and time take on a different modality. They no longer exist in a linear fashion, but rather a type of spiraled time which incorporates all types of possibility collapsed into one. As if you were in a realm of super-causality, able to reinvent the linear world, change it, bring about the mythic realms to better fulfill them. By understanding how emergent semiotic systems and forms come into being and thus work with the somatic worlding, we can better grasp the mythic realm and the spirits who inhabit it.
It seems that the semiotic world can bleed into the somatic (Abram 1996:169-70), almost as if the embedded somatic aspects and phenomenological experiences are being entangled to such a degree that they echo or reflect one another. The story of the cotton wood is a beautiful example of a water loving tree becoming a being that sounds like water itself. Or the story of bees and flowers helping to propagate the flowers, first with the flowers becoming a symbolic reference to a bee’s genitals, and then somehow becoming a reference to a human vaginas. It seems like such an interesting symbolic synchronization that flowers would then be used as items of courtship and symbols of beauty and even passion. The world of flowers takes on a very ecosexual theme, and that is not lost on us. There seems to be, contrary to the claims of science and Darwinism, a type of teleodynamic(6) feed back into the phenomenological world itself. That perhaps the mind which experiences the somatic is doing so because mind-ness being relationary, naturally necessitates these feedback loops. We have now an interesting hypothesis of not only the spirit world, but of the evolutionary feedbacks of that world. How it affects us. How the spirits come to exist as alternative intelligences to the bodily beings we know so well in reality.
Whenever people speak of the other world they tend to use the word ‘veil’ to connote the hiddenness of this world. If we look closely here, the word veil derives from the Latin root velum which meant a curtain or a head covering, which is interesting when we considering what exactly is behind the veil. Is it the other world? Or could it actually be our own eyes and faces? Our own sensual phenomenology? The word here embraces the sensual nature of sight, of the sensory application of being hidden not from the world, but from the people of the world. From ourselves. When we trace the origins of this word even further, it hits at the proto IE word *weg, which means “to weave a web”. Here again another connection is made to the interwoven spectrums of our intersubjective phenomenologies, knotted together to become the references and symbols of a semiotic worlding.
To pierce the veil is none other than to rip back the coverings that are over your own eyes, to see the world for what it really is, to perceive the interwoven nature of reality through your relationality with it. But how do we do this? What kind of reality are we coming to see? How does the mythic realm operate? And what kind of phenomenological experiences do we have of the semiotic?
Part 9. Of Sense and Sensibility
I think perhaps the most important aspect of symbols and forms exist in how these things can affect the world around us as feedback loops. To bring senses back into play here, we need to come to understand the roles sight and sound have to play in the creation and projections of the symbolic world. These somatic indicators are also the first basis of mind-ness that brings us to referencing a more symbolic world. The cottonwood who sounds like rain, the shadows that animate cave walls, shadow itself that symbolizes the dreaming body, different spectrums of light which are indicators of various aspects of a flower to a bee, etc. All of these aspects of sensory perception are also the roots of a symbolic realm, and it is in this symbolic place that things emerge within our ability to mind them properly or at least coherently, that forms of synesthesia arise to help bring more symbolic indicators to the person seeking their intelligence.
Just as the body is a sensory organ for the conscious waking life (able to feel, hear, see the world around it), dreaming is the result of our sensory organs tapping into the mythic realms. Being able to feel and sense the mythic provides us with a semiotic deluge of experiencing the world around us. There is never solely one meaning to the dreams we have, for this realm is a reflection upon the one we inhabit, concatenated with meanings. Congruent with several interlocking indices, referencing the points and purposes of agents of our world.
There is of course your own self reflective awareness within a dream, but then there is also the awareness of events, places, times, histories. Just as the surrounding waking world imprints upon and intra-acts with you, the semiotic reflection of this world is experienced in a fully immersive state called dreaming. It is here that we are visited by the intermediary intelligences that bridge the gaps between this world and the mythic. Of course these beings are partially ourselves and constructed by our own sensory organs, but our phenomenological experience of the waking world is as well. Our sensory organs take in data and reconstruct that data in a way that our mind can make sense of it, so what you see is a diffraction of the world, an echo of it. It is a felt experience of course, but that feeling is that of an echo chamber of reverberating enlivenment. Dreams are the same exact thing just far more potent with the semiotic worlding. While somatically you are affected with the acts of the mythic world, a clarity of its intra-actions with you does not crystallize until you can be in a state of sensing that begins to make sense of all these more subtle vibrations of the semiotic experience. Within this state, your mind is reconstructing that reality, just like it reconstructs waking reality. So what you find in this place is that meanings or symbols become interchangeable between the self and the other, between the waking realm and the mythic realm. You could dream of flying and it could hold within it several points of reference to yourself, towards your place and/or towards your future.
It reconstructs reality in this way because reality is very much a sympoietic act. It is a “becoming with” rather than just a linear becoming. It operates with a constant multitude of co-creation, within the self, other, place, past and present. The world is a co-creative worlding at all points in space and time, with no possible origin of a proper beginning or ending being known to us. So just as the waking world is this sympoietic somatic experience, so to is the mythic realm interconnected with a multitude of semiotic references.Time in this place is cyclical rather than linear, and so what you experience is very much the supra causal imprints of the mythic realms. Places are still tugging at you as your body is still interpreting their sense of being. Memories embed.
Our dreams are thus a place where we become a part of the mythic realm, a world of story and semiotic interfaces, a world filled with beings that are the sensible embodiment of far more porous agents we encounter in the waking world. Beings that exists on an emergent scale of connective intra-actions like that of the jam-time muse.
Living in a world of shared perceptions, where spectrums of knowing can entangle in ways that confuse the senses, there are multiple ways in which our senses begin to blend with the dreaming mind. The dreaming mind is not just accessible when asleep, but through an array of various altered states of mind that help you to see into the mythic realm. Trance states and multi compartmentalized forms of minding can help you delve into the deeper forms of the mythic. Synesthesia is often a way of mingling the senses to allow for people to make sense of the semiotic. To be able to smell colors is an act of attaching color to another type of sign that has a deeper meaning to it. To be able to hear smells is a way of listening to the stories of deeper aspects attached to those smells.
A trance state often occurs within jam circles which allow you to undergo various states of synesthesia. Tasting the music as sweet, bitter or savory. Feeling it tug at your heart and your emotions as a sense of touch. Seeing a progression or a form of coloration that displays the beautiful body of the egregoric muse. These are ways in which normal everyday individuals commune with a mythic reality. It is in the cultivation of these altered states of consciousness and sensory perceptions that one can come into communion with the mythic realm and its inhabitants. Synesthesia is how we are able to feel place, symbolism, abstract modes of being beyond the immediate physical tangibles we tend to take for granted.
One of the greatest types of synesthesia is how we develop a sense of place. Places as discussed earlier contain within them beings, stories, and events that are not just discernible through one sense alone but through how our senses correlate the place to the memories embedded in it. Smelling the air of a place can remind you of an event in the past. Seeing the architecture can evoke a certain feeling of the place that you don’t have anywhere else. Entering an old home that haunts you and recalls memories of ages long ago, memories that are not necessarily yours. Places enfold us into the greater entanglement of their mythic ecology. They become a part of our psyche and enter into our dreams. We become a part of them as they are a part of us, and all the spectrums of phenomenological experience exist within it, even those that come from the spirits themselves.
Second sight is the ability to alter one’s consciousness in order to see deeper into the real world. It is the pulling back of the veil from your own eyes to commune with the myriads of more than human agencies that exist within the different phenomenological spectral entanglements. Spectrum is an interesting word we use when considering the varieties of light that we can or can not see, as it shares an etymology with spectre. Beings that haunt us from the corner of our eyes, beings that exist in memories and stories that manifest themselves in times when we are not seeing as we usually do. Within the spectrums of our sensual experience exist the deeper spectres of a mythic realm.
Speaking to spirits requires us to enter into communion with the systems from which they emerge. Just as a musician needs to be in the trance of the jam to sense the muse, so to does any potential communicator with spirits require themselves to be immersed within the connective system itself. The language of spirits are connected to the systems mythic interface. Within trees for instance, that type of interface is incredibly different from humans. Have you ever felt full from sunlight? Have you ever felt cozy in 20 feet of dirt? Have you ever felt the gentle sway of your branches and leaves from the wind? How could you ever produce such a meaningful experience as that with the confines of your slapping meat hole? The point I am trying to make is that you shouldn’t assume that trees can speak in the ways of animals, they communicate in a slow network with mycelium, and it is very possible that some trees can’t even communicate that way due to modern forestry practices that have rendered these creatures deaf and dumb. The same can be said for the vast array of more than human intelligences. They all have their own way of speaking.
How do you suppose these beings, who have never communicated with each other before, would be able to intelligently uncover and understand your languages semiotic nuances? It is up to you as a mythic ecologist and budding sorcerer to build the mythic interface necessary for communication. This requires study and patience. It requires an honest reflective heart and an intuition that peers into the processes of a being so that you are able to create a bridge of understanding for what kind of phenomenological experience that would arise from those processes. The key is to seek the shared phenomenological experiences. In those stories of semiotic and somatic merging, you will find the allies that can help you communicate with the more than human world. Remember Cottonwood, they can teach you this.
Part 10. Of Myth and Magic
When you look out into the world of beings, especially physical beings, you see that they have various degrees of attributions which formulate their process of being. It is easy to see a tree and approximate its totality. But any approximation made is merely one done in regards to how its being can intra-act with your being. Understanding its being is intrinsically linked to being in relationship with it.
So what you see and understand about a tree, how you feel about it, how it affects you, it is all through the lens of how you integrate with it. Your understanding of the tree is an intra-active experience of how it co-creates your phenomenological experience. So you will only know as much as you can integrate. This means there is a great deal about the tree you will not know, a great deal of true encountering that can only occur if it so chooses to reach out to you and you can put away your fragmented perspective long enough to allow it to enter into you.
In order to know, you must be invited into relationship with what you seek to know. You are not a subject objectifying the world around you, but rather you are a subject engaged in stories with other beings, speaking and hearing them in communion. Working and operating within their mythic reality. You are in many ways just as much a creature of story as are the spirits themselves. Knowing and being are an inseparable phenomenon. Because of this in order for you to know the spirits and the spirit world, you must be relatable and tangible to them. There must be a shared story.
The mythic realm is the place where the phenomenological experience of a multitude of agencies interact with one another and create common signs and symbols that are used within a multispecies network of mind. It is physical in that all of the symbols are referencing the somatic world. A symbol of the snake or of fire is near universal to many creatures. Symbols of wetness are near universal to the forest. Embedded into our very genetic structures through time, but also embedded into our ecological networks.
I hesitate to call this “spiritual” as it infers a dualist property. It is not so much “spiritual” as it is “mythic”. Being that this world is composed not so much of platonic ideals or stagnate archetypes, but of real embedded stories that give life to the symbols used within our waking dream. These stories are what give lineage and ancestry to the symbols used by agencies within a given ecology. Because they do this, the evolution of the phenomenological experiences of the creatures of the ecology can arrive at an intersecting mythos which acts as a language for the ecology itself. It helps guide the beings that operate within those mythic cycles. It helps to unite the various spectrums into a cohesive functioning ecology.
The agencies that contain these symbols, that cultivate these symbols, that curate these symbols, are intermediaries between relational intelligence. Their mind is a network with the ecology itself, their language containing within it embedded ecological knowledge. They are the place in which these beings exist, their network of culture and ecologies are the land in which these semiotic intersections root and grow.
Human beings are creatures of story. We crave the expressions of our connections through the beautiful medium of mythopoetic narratives surrounding life. The concept of gods and spirits is one of these beautiful narratives. We are as well. Our perceptions of facts and truth are merely other forms of myth, stories that help us piece together a mosaic for the sake of interacting with the world around us. In discussing the nature of the mind and myth, Chalquist suggests that the “psyche’s natural language is mythological, a language of images and stories. Myths matter because they are the collective dreams that wed inner and outer, people and places, known and unknown. Myths image deep structurings of the human experience of the non human” (Chalquist 2007:76).
The spirit world is a place deeply integrated with our regular world. It is a place where stories are interwoven and enlivened by the entangled agencies of place and memory. It exists as spectrums or layers upon an already sensual reality, and it is accessible to any who can enter into various states of the dreaming mind, whether they are asleep or awake. The spirits are not just a fiction, but a living story. Biomes and ecosystems are agential. They are the intelligence of place, the memory and agency that come from the interrelationships of differentiated beings. The agency that arises between a tree and the fungal networks that support it is a kind of spirit. The agency that arises from the interrelationships of a river and its canyon is a type of spirit. The gust of wind that blew off your hat was a playful sylph, a localized embodiment of the ironic and ridiculous. The events which shape our lives come with their own beautiful and bizarre agencies. These are the sidhe, the folk, the spirits that slip in and out of our conscious perceptions. It is from this mythopoetic drama that defines our beautiful interbeing with them, that we can come to know them and interact with them on a daily basis.
When we enter into communion with the gods and spirits around us, we come to a place where our will and their will are in a henotic dance with one another. We enter into a place of power, where magic flows through us like the divine breath. A place where power is freely given away and grace is abundant. There is so much language in these places. So much is being said. They speak to us in echoes and they dance with us in the shadows. They feel us with the weighted gravitas of living stories, stories which hold us together and formulate our sense of place.
Whenever you begin to pull back the veil of our disenchantment, you begin to see the world in a new way. The intimate and sensuous nature of our existence is as flesh writhing against flesh. It is an inscendence towards our interanimistic reality where the physical material reality is the divine rapture of spirituality itself. Indeed they can not be separated. What is right before your eyes is the heart of a god. What is rooted into every point of reality is an endless connectivity. The otherworld can be found here, in this world rightly seen.
He awoke in the dark. The warm caress of the cave was thrumming all around him. His breathing slow and steady. His heart beat strong and resonant. They had all left him to find his way out, but he wasn’t concerned. This place, this cave of spirit, was his guide now.
He got up slowly and began to hum the song of the place. It needed a song and he knew it. Only a certain pitch would do. Only a certain tone would reverberate with the echoes that could guide him. The dripping of water was telling him this. As it fell he could hear the tone that the cave knew best, what it would respond with. He invoked the wisdom of the bat people and began his journey out. Listening, feeling the depth enter into him, feeling the vibrations light up pathways he had never before knew about.
He was at ease knowing that he need not know everything , just that he needed to know how to speak rightly and allies would come. Step by step he made his way out. Crawling where necessary. Ducking from low overhangs that he knew intuitively were there. The cave guided him along.
Soon he came to the entrance. A tunnel of light growing as he left this primordial underworld. Stepping outside, the colors of the day exploded into view. Everything was vibrant. Everything was alive. The clouds looked down upon him and swirled in response. The trees started swaying at his return. Creatures of all kinds and colors were swirling about, tending to the bodies of things.
Stories enveloped the land. Beings he had never known before came through to him as enlivened spirits. The forest was alive with shapes and colors that peaked through. The sky was alive with swirling clouds that seemed to respond to his attention. The ground was like the back of a giant beast breathing rhythmically in deep slumber. The rocks hummed in tune with the land. He looked behind him to see the cave swallowing it all in. Drinking deeply of the light.
This was the waking dream. This was the world he yearned to see. This was real.
Abram, David. 2011. Becoming Animal, An Earthly Cosmology. Vintage Books.
Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous. Vintage Books.
Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Meaning and Matter. Duke University Press.
Basso, Keith. 1996. “Wisdom Sits In Places”, Senses of Place Edited by Steven Feld and Keith Basso. School of American Research Press.
Blackie, Sharon. 2017. What The Old Women Knows (Grey Heron Nights 1). The Art of Enchantment. https://theartofenchantment.net/2017/12/15/what-the-old-woman-knows.
Casey, Edward. 1996. “How to Get From Space to Place” Senses of Place Edited by Steven Feld and Keith Basso. School of American Research Press.
Chalquist, Craig. 2007. Terrapsychology. Spring Journal Inc.
Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying With the Trouble, Making Kin in the Cthulucene. Duke University Press.
Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Towards and Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press.
Shim, Eileen. 2014. When ‘The Gods’ Spoke to our Ancestors, Here’s What They Were Really Hearing. Mic. https://m.mic.com/articles/102500/when-the-gods-spoke-to-our-ancestors-here-s-what-they-were-really-hearing#.0OZ5QoKWg.
Stringer, David. 2017. When Grasshopper Means Lightning | How Ecological Knowledge is Encoded in Endangered Languages. Medium. https://medium.com/langscape-magazine/when-grasshopper-means-lightning-how-ecological-knowledge-is-encoded-in-endangered-languages-9d3f4d1623c2. This article was originally published in Langscape Magazine Volume 5, Issue 1, Summer 2016.
Thiem, Mathieu. 5/2017. Interanimism: On the Mutual Inspiration of a Dreaming Earth. The Woven Song. https://wovensong.com/2017/05/23/interanimism-on-the-mutual-inspiration-of-a-dreaming-earth/.
Thiem, Mathieu. 10/2017. The Dead Can Dance: On the Mythic Cycles of Ecology. The Woven Song. https://wovensong.com/2017/10/21/the-dead-can-dance-on-the-mythic-cycles-of-ecology.
Wilby, Emma. 2013. Cunning Folk and Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visioning Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Sussex Academic Press.
Zorich, Z. Early Humans Made Animated Art. Nautilus. http://m.nautil.us/issue/11/light/early-humans-made-animated-art.
1. See the Mind Body Paradox. I write about it in the article Interanimism as well.
2. John Halstead wrote a series of articles that covered the escapism of modern day beliefs of the other worlds. https://godsandradicals.org/2017/10/02/escaping-the-otherworld-the-false-enchantment-of-pagan-escapism/.
3. Intra-action – Mutual affectation wherein two or more subjects intrinsically change and co-constitute the others. A term coined by feminist physicist Karen Barad as “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies” (Barad 2007:33)
4. Much lore surrounds the cottonwood tree. They were sacred to many indigenous people of America. Kachina dolls are made from their roots. If you clean cut a branch you can see a five pointed star shape in the core of the branch that was the basis for many star creation stories.
5. Semiotics. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotics.
6. Teleodynamics. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incomplete_Nature.