Lately I have seen the term “person” or “personhood” being used in an animist context to introduce the concept that we should be considering other intelligences as vitally alive and of having a soul.
Anything that supports people picking their heads up and actually looking around and seeing that there are other people in the world, let alone other intelligences, I fully support.
Perhaps this term is a good first step in doing so.
But this term is inherently problematic. First, let’s consider the thought that if we were to truly go into a forest, or under an ocean, and take a poll of all of the non-human intelligences and/or elementals there… how would they feel about humans?
This is the sort of funny thing that only those who have connected to and revere such intelligences consider. Humans have a lot of wonderful things going for them, but from outsider perspective, many may not have the highest regard for humans, nor find it beneficial or express gratitude at being described as one.
When we ascribe personhood to something, we are putting a lens on it. We have certain expectations for language, social constructs, behavior, ethics and moral compass to name yet a few examples.
Perhaps most important of this is ethical and moral compass, as we rarely contend with the fact that our ethical and moral compass is what we expect the world and everything in it to follow, and that other humans, as well as other intelligences, may not fit our rigid definitions.
We especially rarely contend with the fact that our ethical and moral compass may not be shared with other humans universally… or that our compass may have been set by us very much by society and familial imprints, and not by our own conscious participation or decision.
Especially intelligences that are far from human or personhood will have very different outlooks than our own. They will have a much different manner of relating than our own. They will have different beliefs, different interests, and a much different vantage point than our own.
At some point considering the arrogance of ascribing ourselves at the top of the pyramid, and then perhaps saying “ok, let’s solve this by putting everything at the top of the pyramid in order to correct this” doesn’t consider that many beings, elementals, and other creatures may not have put us at the top of such a pyramid.
Through such a definition of personhood, we strip beings of their unique vitality. We render them one-dimensional, with specific ways of relating. We strip them of their power, of their way of being, of their beauty, by asking them to fit in with our notions and wounds and self-centeredness.
We then close ourselves off to authentic experience and communion because we have expectations that such an intelligence is going to have a similar way of relating. We cannot listen, we cannot truly hear, if we have such expectations.
If you go into any spiritual relationship expecting a tree to speak to you like a person does, or for any other type of being to relate to you in a way that any type of “personhood” creates, the chances that you are self-creating are astronomical.
The chances are that that tree would relate to you in its own way if you only allowed it and were not so fixated on it relating a specific way, are also astronomical.
If you considered that your spiritual relationship may take time, that it is a two way street (not just you taking or expecting every intelligence to fall over themselves wanting to teach you), and are actually willing to learn (and to listen) to an intelligence vastly different than your own, then you will find yourself in as many spiritual relationships as you have time for.
If you are willing to consider that those spiritual relationships are not going to be centered around you (it being a two-way street and a relationship, after all), are not like all of the other humans who look to take and personify and psychologically project onto such intelligences, are actually willing to learn and are open enough to learn, have an ounce or two of humility, and are willing to see the intelligences around you as the unique, nuanced, and dynamic vitality that they are… all the better.
I find that a lot of people really haven’t come to consciousness in regards to how christianized their outlook is. I mean no disrespect, I have studied a fair amount of estoric and folk Christianity paths and find them quite lovely, but the animist perspective is not one of dominion. It is not one of transcendentalism. It is not one of even humans really being caretakers, or of even being a significant part of the weaving that we call life. It isn’t one in which humans get to call all of the shots, or can snap their fingers and whatever they want will occur… or even one in which every intelligence that you approach is willing to teach you, or any human for that matter.
What I see a lot of out there is basic christianized theology with a few spiritual elements sort of shoehorned in. The same framework and archetypes, but rendered slightly differently to cause people to believe that they are somehow on a much different path, without the deconstructive effort to personality or ideology that it would take to authentically create a new framework.
I realize I will get a lot of flak for pointing this out as many individuals participating in such communities believe that they have moved away from such ideologies as they have turned to spiritual, shamanic, or pagan religious or spiritual paths. They may even have internalized hatred or trauma surrounding christianized ideologies, but they haven’t really moved away from them.
While I recognize that we often need a framework that is friendly to those perhaps taking one step towards moving away from such ideologies, it has very much become something where the first step is considered the entirety of the map in our modern world, and the true essence and beauty of such teachings is lost.
As teachings enter a puritanical framework, the things that the framework cannot contend with are stripped from it: death, sex, atavistic and animalistic impulses. Spirits are rendered safe, or non-existent, or easy to command (because: human). Anything deemed “ugly” is then stripped, anything that will remind us of the cycling of death-disease-life, of the shadow and darkness, that which gives us ultimately our power, is then stripped.
The shamanic framework is one of katabasis. It is of a descent to the Underworld, a death and rising process in which we truly begin to understand the cycles of ourselves, of life, of nature. It is only by contending with our depths that we can access our power; it is only through contending with our depths that we can contend with the depths of others.
It is only through contending with our depths that we can in any way rise. Otherwise our ascension or “light work” is truly incomplete. It is illusion without the contention of reality, of what really makes us human, and of activating our divine creative power, which is the cycling of consciousness and life force through us that is latent at our very depths (kundalini, in the root chakra, or Tiamat at the oceanic depths, if one cares to be poetic about it).
I very much consider such teachings gatekeepers, and understand their purpose… and that those who are ready to move on, will. But here is my advice, for those willing to listen:
What animism does is consider everything as part of a web. That we are continually in a state of interbeing with what is around us. That everything has vitality, it has a soul. It has something that we can speak with. But this is only if we speak to it on its own terms.
That is only if we are secure within ourselves to listen. To hear. To witness and regard something quite different from ourselves as valuable, vital, and of having knowledge. To build a relationship with it. To build a friendship. To build any type of partnership requires time, it requires openness, and it requires being able to truly meet the other on their own terms and in their own way.
If we can learn how to listen, and move past our ideologies that render us deaf and mentally creating out of societal expectation or psychological projection, we can meet such intelligences in their true capacity. It is only by willing to meet any type of being, human or non-human, on its own terms and at its own depth, that we can commune at an in-depth and authentic level.
An octopus doesn’t think like you. It doesn’t want to be a person. It very much has its own thing going on, and until a being like it is offered respect, regard, and deep listening, we cannot properly and clearly commune with it.