Have you ever thought, “Are my favorite boots alive?” Lots of people claim to be animists, but stop short of believing that things that we think of as inanimate having a soul. From this perspective, computers, socks, and brooms aren’t “living” or “conscious.”
But are they? Let me see if I can explain it.
We know that from a scientific perspective, everything is made of energy and that this energy moves and responds to thoughts. We could stop there, label that the soul, and call it a day. However, from an animist perspective, that’s not all there is to it. With things, the soul isn’t just the energy that gives a thing life. It is that things purpose. Because life without purpose isn’t a life at all.
So, what do I mean? What is the purpose of a book? It’s to give you information, entertain you, or take you to another world, isn’t it? When our books do that, we read them, right? And sometimes we read them over and over again. If we do that, they are well loved. It’s reciprocal relationship. They give us wisdom or an escape, and we give them our time and attention. The book lives its purpose and its soul is happy.
Contrast that to a dusty, dry text book (let’s say), that sits on a shelf unread. It has been sitting there since college only because it was too old to be resold. So it was placed there and forgotten. That book, we’d say, is soulless. It may have been lovingly created by the author, but it lost its soul when it became no longer useful. So, it’s now just a husk, much like our dead bodies will be when our souls leave.
Now let’s look at an old, abandoned car that’s been rusting away in someone’s back yard. Along comes a car enthusiast who sees this car’s potential. He pulls it out of the weeds, guts it, replaces all the worn out pieces with shiny new ones, makes it run again, and drives around in it. One could say that not only did this guy restore the car to usefulness, he also restored its soul.
It’s the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. Love, usefulness, and relationship makes a thing “real” or alive. All things need to be useful, loved, and to have a purpose.
Some Tips For Incorporating This Idea Into Your Animist Practice
Care for, use, and love the things you have.
Give gratitude for the things you have.
If there are things that don’t have value to you anymore, give them to someone who can use them. If they aren’t useful anymore, for example you have broken glasses in the cupboard or knives with a dull blade, either refurbish them or dispose of them.
When you create things, do so intentionally. Choose every element that goes into its creation for the purpose of enhancing that thing’s gifts. You’re energizing its soul. If it’s a thing of beauty, do your best to highlight the lovely lines, bones, or colors. If it’s weapon, make sure it’s fast and deadly. Is it something tasty to eat? Use the freshest ingredients to make sure it pops with flavor and smells wonderful.
This idea translates to people too. Find your gifts. Live your purpose. Enliven your life.
The Bantu people have a way of expressing this idea in the way that they greet each other. They greet each other with “I see you.” With these words, they come into each other’s mindful presence and connect. So see your things. Come into relationship with them. Enliven them. Let them fulfill their purpose. If you do that, you never have to wonder if your favorite boots are alive. You will know.