Hello Mary-

This might sound silly, but you are the only animist I know, and I thought I’d give it a try, so here goes: How do I go about something like a wasp nest in my well that is as gentle (or merciful) as possible but also… well gets rid of wasps in my walls. I’m not asking for tips on insect killers, I’m asking for tips on how to deal with killing so many insects when one is at least animism-friendly. I’m perfectly capable of killing them, but I’d like to be as fair to insects in my house as I can… From a homeowner’s standpoint I’m also not going to let them happily multiply inside my walls. What makes it worse is that they are really not aggressive when they are inside the house. So except for “this is my house thank you very much” I don’t have a reason to kill them.

Very long story short: Is there a candle I can light in their memory, or something to that effect? I guess I’d do just that if I don’t get an answer through your blog. Thanks in any case, looking forward to your next book!–


Hi Susanne-

One of the things I love about Animism is that that it is about our individual relationship with nature. It is a practice that has a few tenents (and even some of those may be disagreed upon at times) but there are just as many types of Animism as there are Animists…. 

Which basically means that despite everything I say here, it is up to your individual relationship with your wasp houseguests as to how to proceed.

One of the things that I notice quite a bit is that people who tend to be attracted to Animism (and Shamanism) are often good-hearted people who wish to be kind to everyone and everything. I do very much appreciate the sentiment of this, but often it perpetuates the divide between ourselves and nature, rather than providing connection or solution to it.

I do of course think that considering the environment, our impact on it, and harm reduction to be essential.

The Other (which the natural world is a part of) is both filled with sun dappled meadows as well as darkness and uncertainty and fierce teeth gnashing and claws. Part of an Animistic practice would be reclaiming that wild within ourselves– the parts of ourselves that can defend ourselves and our homes, that can take action, that can pounce and prey and track and growl.

And can do those things without guilt and without the type of moral apprehension that modern spiritual circles tend to be so riddled with. It is easy to be shamed into being a really, really good person that everyone and everything can run over and treat like a doormat because “nice” or “spiritual” or “being the better person”.

This has little to do with nature, or with Animism, and more to do with a spiritual culture that is out of touch with its inner and outer wildness, animalistic instincts, and darkness.

To get more to your question…. I find it helpful for my students to start to consider the natural world as being composed of “people” or “relations”. This is a first step, but a good one. This is because it can reorient your thinking into considering what would happen if said wasps come into your house like a bad house guest would.

Part of emotional intelligence is recognizing that people can be anything from completely amazing, sincere, authentic individuals to real jerks (and everything in between). This can move on to even more nuanced thinking, where we can recognize that someone can be a real jerk and completely amazing at the same time.

But in developing emotional intelligence and consciousness, the goal is to clearly discern what people bring into your life and to develop basic boundaries. This means considering that in rare cases that people may be too toxic or chaotic or abusive or detrimental to your basic well-being to include in your life. This may also be recognizing that people may not be the best for you, but you can handle them in small doses and so will allow yourself to have a basic, surface-level relationship (low information being offered to them and little intimacy) when you are required to (work, family, neighbors, etc).

This also means celebrating the intimacy of those connections that bring love and worth into your life; that truly see you and hear you and reflect you that you are worthwhile and loveable and are worthy of developing a deep, abiding connection with over time.

I mention all of this because I would readily put wasps into the category of the toxic relative that may seem harmless until they get the equivalent of a few drinks into them. But that is my relationship with them– that may not be yours.

One way of thinking about your situation is to understand that Animism is about being a part of the natural cycles of life. By the time I am writing this (since I received your email a bit ago) you have likely moved on, as have those wasps. Such is life.

In my home I have an accord with the spiders. They don’t bother me and they get to hang out and claim their favorite corners. My cats do not have that same relationship with the spider community. I have also journeyed to ants and spiders and shown them the way out of my home or property via journey as well as physically. I don’t suggest doing this unless you have some experience journeying and communing (instructions in my Shamanic Workbook series) and obviously don’t suggest it for wasps… or that toxic relative. It often takes a bit of practice and some effort to break down the ideologies and energetics of separation from nature and spirit that are in place for all of us to some degree in the modern world to be in a place of being able to commune with said critters.

I do think that your idea of a candle ceremony is lovely. However, I sometimes find that some of us can feel guilty for claiming our space, for having a backbone, for utilizing our voices, or for having access to the darker (instinctual) aspects of our nature…and so if the candle ceremony is to allow for a healing and moving forward for both you and wasp, that sounds great. 

If it is to assuage some inner sense of guilt and cultural shaming and the odd type of moralizing compassion that is part and parcel of being separate from the natural world and being disconnected from the tooth, nail, and wild aspects of yourself, I would instead suggest finding your inner wasp, and discovering how you can connect to the wildness within.

P.S. Your question is not silly at all! It shows that you are thinking things through. We need that type of critical thinking and thoughtfulness in this world. Be proud of your inquiries– curiosity and open-minded inquiry are rarer than you may believe, and will take you far.

Mary Mueller Shutan is a spiritual teacher and author of several books, including The Shamanic Workbook series.

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