Respecting the Darkness in the Spirit World

respecting the Darkness

Someone recently came to me with a story about how he was planning to battle the Darkness. That story told me it was time that we shared some thoughts about respecting the Darkness.

What’s the Darkness?

But first, a definition. What do I mean by “Darkness?” Do I mean things that are unseen? Evil? Energies that want to harm us?

Some say there is no Darkness. Animism is a complementary dualistic system, so if there is Light there must be Dark. It certainly is unseen, but it can be illuminated.  I wouldn’t call it Evil because I believe that everything that exists is sacred.

That said, everything is not healthy, wholesome or desirable. (How could it be if we can’t have what’s healthy without something that is not healthy?) Everything doesn’t use its consciousness to help. Some things do harm. So by “Darkness” I could be referring to things we don’t see, but am most certainly referring to things that are not easy, kind, or warm. In fact, they can be downright dangerous.

I’m not talking about Shadow, or things that are within you, but things that are separate from you and not of your own creation or control. I’m talking about things like banshees, faeries, dybbuks, aswang, nuckelevees, vampires, wendigos, zombies, and kelpies. I also refer to the places where these things dwell and the practices of things like curses and soul stealing.

Flirting With the Dark

With magic, demons, and “shamans” appearing regularly in stories and mainstream entertainment, lots of people are now seeing things in the Darkness that they didn’t see before. There also seem to be a lot of people who think they can pick up a cookbook of spells, procedures, or rituals to barge into the Darkness to do battle. Or many people want to work out their anger, jealousy, or insecurities by cursing others.

Ask any indigenous animist and they will tell you that this is foolish!

You don’t go into battled unarmed and ignorant hoping that you will figure it out. I see lots of people who either wandered there inadvertently while on a plant medicine journey, or intentionally, who came back truly damaged. The risk is too great to bumble around the Dark – regardless of the purpose.

If you want to live in the animist world, you have to understand Darkness. From that understanding, you can build a culture of respect. This is something even indigenous animists have to cultivate. Animism is not a utopia. Culture and society is something that lives, breathes, and changes as we change. We can move towards balance or imbalance depending upon our choices.

How to Respect the Dark

To gain a respect for the Dark and keep the energies around you in their easiest, most helpful forms, these tribal animist concepts may be useful to know. Modern animists may choose to not adopt these beliefs, but they are valuable to acknowledge when dealing with the Dark regardless.

Everything is conscious. Everything is sovereign and has the power to harm or help. All things want to be nurtured, protected, and appreciated. When you stop acknowledging the boundaries, contributions, or value of a person or thing, it may harm you. When spirits are happy, they tend to share that happiness in the from of blessings. Everything is related. So at the very least, do no harm.

Order and tradition are important. Rituals help people to know who they are, bind us to the ancestors and society, and create belonging. Rituals also exist to protect the community through honoring the land, ancestors, harvest, natural world, and spirit world. Codes of conduct and taboos are implemented to preserve order. (Examples of this are things like restricting menstruating women from rituals, harvesting sustainably, using all of a slain animal, and defining when or where sex can be enjoyed). When this is done, the relationship between the Dark and Light is sustained.

Everything has a nature and will act according to its nature. Some energies are naturally Dark and will harm you. It’s what they do. You cannot alter this. It’s beneficial to know the nature of all things in your community and interact accordingly.

Balance results in harmony. Harmony is achieved through things like sacrifice, ritual, reciprocity, gratitude, respect, and having healthy boundaries.

Create protection when open and vulnerable to spiritual attack, such as when you are having sex, grieving, sick, angry, or are intoxicated.

Everything has power. “Don’t take a knife to a gun fight.” Know when you are out gunned and don’t go into a battle that you can’t win. At the very least, consult someone who is experienced and trained to act as a intermediary between the physical and spiritual worlds. It’s not something you can learn to do in a weekend.

If you come up against something scary, ask for help. There are many energies that are willing to help you if you need it. Stay within your comfort zone. Don’t blunder foolishly into something dangerous because you were too proud or ignorant to ask for help.

It’s Not All Love and Light

The modern animist world is not all love and light. Every day is a walk of balance between the Light and Dark. We don’t ignore, fear, or neglect the Darkness. We acknowledge and respect it. This is the path to wholeness.

Animist Revival, Duality, and Spiritual Boundaries

spiritual boundaries

I recently discovered that there is an animist revival happening! Lots of people who lost touch with their animist roots are now being drawn to reawaken this part of themselves. Mixed culture people are deepening their knowledge and practice of their animist side. Tribal people are benefiting and recoiling from this explosion.

To navigate this in a healthy way, it’s good to look at where we came from. When we do this, we can move forward in a more mindful way.  So let’s review our past.

The History of Cultural Destruction

Throughout history, conquerors have taken territory, killed people, and changed cultures. We can see the evidence of this in language. In modern times, we see that English speaking areas that weren’t originally English territory were conquered by England. Spanish speaking places were conquered by Spain. Portuguese speaking places were conquered by Portugal, and so on.

The British Empire was the last huge empire and the one that conquered the land where I live, so I will focus on them as they are the one I know most about. Please be aware that this didn’t just happen to Native Americans and people of color. It happened to aboriginal Australians, the Scottish, Irish, and others as well.

British strategy was to systematically destroy the culture of the local people to reduce opposition and impose control. They forcibly removed them from their lands dislocating them from their ancestors. In many cases, they forbade them from hunting and forced them to farm, starve, or subsist on the government handouts that were theirs by right of the peace treaties. So in essence, they took away their lifestyles and government became their benefactor.

The British also took children from their parents and sent them to boarding schools. In these schools, the children experienced rampant hunger, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Children were not allowed to wear their traditional clothing, speak their language, or engage in their spiritual practices. In the case of Native Americans, their hair, which was a source of power, was cut.

When these kids went home to visit their families, they could often no longer relate to them because they were so culturally different. They could also no longer speak to them because they couldn’t understand each other. The last residential boarding schools closed in 1973.

President Grant’s 1868 Peace Policy allowed the forcible conversion to Christianity. By 1872, sixty-three of the seventy-five Native reservations were administered by Christian religious denominations. Despite religious freedom being one of the founding rights for all Americans, Native Americans were denied religious freedom until 1978. The United States government was able to do this because did not recognize them as citizens.

“Culture” is defined as the shared language, customs, dress, laws, art, spiritual practices, beliefs, and traditions of a people. So in essence, the conquerors imposed cultural genocide on animist peoples around the world.

Animist Revival

spiritual boundariesIn recent decades people around the world feel a hunger for something different. We feel the disconnection from the land, from their ancestors, and from Spirit. We’re yearning for what’s wild, natural, magical, and spiritual. At the same time, we want to distance ourselves from the horror of our ancestors and identify with what our ancestors once oppressed to “prove” that we are not the bad guy. We’re finding the solution to all that in pagan and animist spirituality.

We’re bringing it into our lives in the only way we know – through the lens of western values. Westerners buy what we want, consume, sell, adopt, and merge. We use the pagan values of “We’re all One” to justify our acquisition. We use our habit of taking only the choicest bits to rationalize our buffet-style of belief and practice.


Duality is the idea that opposites are required for either to exist. We know in because there is out, light because there is dark, and male because there is female.

Antagonistic duality views thing in terms of good and bad. They fight the bad and promote the good.

Complimentary duality says that’s nonsense. Since both are required for the other to exist, you can’t eradicate one without obliterating the other. Each is purposeful.

What does this have to do with spiritual boundaries? It means that east needs west, old needs new, traditional needs modern, in needs out in order to be whole. Complimentary duality is a component of animism. You can’t live in the web of life without it.

That’s why we have Pan Society. To honor that. We offer people a way to live in complimentary duality in the community of others. To do that in a way that is respectful and constructive, we have to have spiritual boundaries.

Spiritual Boundaries

So, we have some problems, don’t we? We’ve made some mistakes, haven’t we? Let’s start today to remedy that by creating spiritual boundaries between native and non-native people, and just people in general, so that the animist revival doesn’t result in the second wave of cultural genocide.

Here are some possible solutions. Take whatever works for you and feel free to add your own.

Change The Way We Speak

How do you feel when someone calls you by the wrong name or mispronounces your name? Let’s change the way we speak. Let’s call things by their proper names.

Christopher Columbus called the people of the New World “Indians” because he mistakenly thought he was in India. They already had names. They are Montauk, Cree, Pima, Wintu, Matan, Macorix,  and many more. When we call them by their names, we show respect for their individuality and give them back their identity. (Keep in mind that for some people  “Indian” has become their identity. So it’s best to ask).

We use terms like witchcraft, pagan, animist, and other words to talk about our understanding of those words. Others may have different understandings so we aren’t communicating effectively. It creates confusion. I might be talking about an ancient practice belonging to a particular people at a particular time. Meanwhile you’re talking about the girl next door who has no cultural or spiritual knowledge of the roots of a belief or practice.

We can clear that up by using correct terms. If you’re talking about Wicca, say Wicca. Is it Neo-paganism? Say that. If it’s modern animism, say that. It will enhance communication and create healthy boundaries around what is X and what is Y.

We use the term shamanism to refer to all the mystical spiritual practices of indigenous peoples because they all look the same to us. We don’t know the differences, or perhaps don’t care. Or maybe we water it down and strip it of specificity to justify taking from tribal people.

“Shamanism” is the mystical practices of the Tuvans. Using the term generically erases individuality and culture.

That’s disrespectful. It is like saying all _____ people look alike. The differences matter! Just because anthropologists do it doesn’t make it right. This is the same type of conquering mentality that took children from their parents and essentially said, “I’m the expert. I know what’s best for you. You are who I say you are.”

spiritual boundariesMy mother’s people take pride in not being among those whose who lost their language, culture, and spirituality. If you go to my mother’s village and ask about shamanism, people will know right away that you’re an outsider who has done zero homework. (There are mystics. There are no shaman). Consequently, they probably won’t trust you.

So one of two things will happen. If you come upon someone who wants to take advantage of you, you will probably be suckered. Otherwise you will probably be corrected then ignored.

People are sick of having their culture distorted, ruined, and sold. They know the value of what was taken and don’t want to give up anymore. Not for any amount of money. They don’t want to be prostituted to tourists because they are poor. They don’t want their spiritual practices reduced to a few reproducable rituals that can be packaged and sold in a weekend workshop.

And that’s what it feels like.  So they protect it, by not sharing it.

If you approach with humility, respect and boundaries, the story would probably be different. Many tribal people have shared with outsiders who are humble and respectful. It’s not a matter of elitism or hate. It’s a matter of respecting the value of what we have. Both sides benefit from respect.

Lose the Entitlement

Outsiders can come in with an attitude of entitlement. They don’t understand that even people within the culture can’t do or have everything. There are boundaries. Sometimes it has to do with timing, age, gender, or readiness. We can’t just do whatever we want whenever we want. Why should you?

Obey Natural Laws

The sun does not shine at night. Salmon don’t spawn in the winter. Everything obeys natural laws. When you don’t know what the cultural boundaries are or follow the flow of Nature, you will make spiritual mistakes.

Womb circles are for women. This doesn’t mean we are not sympathetic towards people who identify as women. It doesn’t mean that they are not honored for who they are or can’t participate in other activities that are women only. It means that this particular event is open to those with a womb. Certain rituals are open to specific genders, ages, or people with a certain condition or have undergone a specific rite of passage. Those boundaries exist for a reason.

I’ve seen people literally lose their minds because they weren’t ready for the experiences they sought. People who don’t have the cultural knowledge to benefit can get nothing from an experience, engage in spiritual bypass, or be completely unprepared for it. So boundaries aren’t about keeping you out. They are about keeping you safe and maintaining the natural order.

Be a Student

When creating a mini dairy goat, you mate a mini with a full sized goat. The first generation offspring are called “experimental.” It isn’t until the fourth generation that those goats are registerable as minis. All that is to say that it takes a while to create change and stabilize that change. So be a student.

In today’s society, people take a workshop and emerge an expert. They teach or share as if they are knowledgeable about a subject. Because there is no on to contradict them, they become the expert. Real wisdom and context is lost.

Animism is a lifepath. It is always in the process of unfolding because every moment is new. Life’s always changing. Nobody becomes enlightened or awakened because it’s an ongoing process. We can have moments of enlightenment or be in the process of awakening, but that’s true of everyone. No one is spiritually better or further along. We’re all in it together.

So who is to say that “that guy” is the expert? Who’s to say that the child doesn’t see more clearly than you? This doesn’t take away from your wisdom or life experience. It just suggests that you never lose the ability to laugh at yourself, give the other guy credit, and remember that we’re all always learning.

Be Trustworthy

If you are invited to participate in a sacred ceremony or are given sacred knowledge, hold it in trust. Treat it with the same reverence that it is held within the native culture. If you alter it (and unless you are deeply steeped in the culture you probably will do that unknowingly if not intentionally), call it by a different name.

Don’t share it with people who would not have the right to it within the tribal context. Don’t teach it if you could not do so within the tribal culture. By all means, never sell it. In most tribal cultures, spirituality is never for sale. Treat is as wise ones within the culture treat it so that you don’t contribute to its destruction.

Respect the Sovereignty

If someone doesn’t want to share with you, that’s their right. They don’t have to. Like westerners, many tribal people are trying to get in touch with their lost roots. We are relearning our languages and reviving our customs. We’re regaining ourselves.

Sometimes the easiest way to do that is with the love and support of others. Sometimes it is by shutting the world out. Respect the process. It’s not about you.

At the same time, it’s totally okay for you to have your own process and own ideas. If you want to return to your roots, fabulous. If a revival style practice works better, do that. Perhaps you want to start something totally new. Fabulous, do that. Or join us. You are welcome here.

The world’s ancient spiritual traditions have remained alive despite radical efforts to eradicate paganism. Thanks to the passion of dedicated people and the mystics who were entrusted with sacred knowledge, it thrives today.

There are many prophesies about the west eradicating the old ways. There are also many prophesies about the old and new combining to create something new and wonderful.

Yang has a history of dominating, distorting, and annihilating Yin. If we want to choose the path of wholeness, we have to learn to trust and respect each other’s ways and wisdom. That requires safety first.

Animism is a blessing that is meant to be experienced and shared. Healing the divide means that east and west, old and new, traditional and modern need to be friends. So let’s show proper respect and boundaries so that it can work for everyone.

Why Modern Animism is Not For Everybody

modern animism

It seems that we are undergoing a shift towards spirituality vs. religion. In that shift, many are looking towards magic, ritual, and a Harry Potter type of spirituality with no rules. That may seem to be what Pan Society offers. We don’t have dogma. There is no Ten Commandments. You can do what you like. This can seem perfect, but let me tell you why modern animism is not for everybody.

What is Modern Animism?

First let me lay the groundwork. We call Pan Society “modern animism” to differentiate it from the contemporary tribal animism that has existed in an uninterrupted state for millennia. If they are the country mice, we are the city mice. We are most likely urban dwellers, consumers of technology, cut off from our ancestors, and living in isolated communities. We don’t have community traditions or networks. Our roots connecting us to Nature aren’t dead, but they need nurturing. We are united by the shared the belief that everything is alive, sacred, and One.

We Are Not Looking Back

Some animists look to reconnect by going back to the past. They want the religion of their ancestors. Sometimes it’s to reclaim what was stolen from them. Sometimes it’s to feel more authentic, special, or powerful. There is nothing wrong with any of that. Pan Society recognizes that the river only flows in one direction. It doesn’t go back. As modern animists, we live in the present moment with modern beliefs, lifestyles, politics, and problems. We accept that the past happened and are living in the now. This is not to say that the past doesn’t matter. It’s most holistic. The past, present, and future matter, and we’re looking ahead.

We Believe in Sovereignty

Many people are attracted to animism for the freedom. They want to be able to take what they want, do what they want, and have no borders or boundaries. That’s more Wild Child or Rebel energy. Pan Society is a bit different. We do believe in freedom, but it’s bounded by responsibility. So, you can choose your own path, but it’s contained by the right use of power. We don’t take from others (including plant, animal, human, mineral, or spiritual “people”) to have what we want. They are sovereign, and we respect their sovereignty as we express our own.

We Believe in Connection

Intimacy is hard! It requires vulnerability and honesty. Quite often, it requires forgiveness. Nobody wants to risk being hurt, so it’s often easier to be superficial, hang back, and withhold your truth. Unfortunately, you can’t engage much from there. So modern animism is risky. The reward is that we live in relationship with the world around us. By letting our roots spread out into the many realms (plant, animal, human, spirit, and mineral), we have a much stronger foundation. We’re bend more easily during the tough times and feel less alone.

We Clean Up Our Mess

I can’t say that this is universally true of modern animists, but when you are aware of your connections, you’re more likely to clean up after yourself. I am mostly talking about emotional baggage, but also the physical space around you. If I am tweaked by something, that shows me where I still need healing. That’s a sovereignty issue. That’s for me to deal with. So, I clean it up. If it’s intergenerational, my family benefits too. My community benefits. Everyone benefits! So, we leave the world a better place than when we found it.

We Take Our Time

Being authentic means looking at hard, deep stuff. Most people want what’s easy, quick, and fun. Modern animism is a lifestyle. It takes a long time to reprogram ourselves out of the commercial, me-me-me, image driven values of modern society. It takes a long time to develop a relationship with the land, animals, ourselves, our people, and the rest of creation. Healing is a process. So, it’s not about immediate gratification or goals. It’s about the experience.

We Are Holistic

Some spiritual not religious folks focus on the wow factor of crystals, tarot cards, or meditation. They like the flash and tricks of being able to do something unique. That becomes the focus of their spirituality.

Or some like to keep their spirituality more philosophical or intellectual. It’s not something that they do. It’s something that they think.

That’s cool, but at Pan Society, we’re in it for the big picture. There is more to animism than rituals or talking to the dead. In fact, your version of it may not include any of that. It’s more about removing the barriers between mind, body, and spirit. It’s about showing the sacredness of life in your speech, relationships, eating, play – everything. Spirit isn’t in one thing. It’s in everything.

The bottom line is modern animism might look like too much work for some people. It could be too hard. If so, it’s okay if it’s not for you. Your path is the right path. It may lead here some day, and it may not. However you choose to lead your life is just fine. Be you.

Wrapping Your Head Around Complimentary Duality

Wrapping Your Head Around Complimentary Duality

When you’re working on spiritual growth, there are times when you’re like a hermit crab. You have to crawl out of your comfy little shell and move into a new home because you expand. You need more space for all the ways you’re growing.

Other times you have to recreate your whole universe because the things you are learning don’t fit within your world view anymore. One of those world expanding things could be about wrapping your head around the idea of complimentary duality. What the heck is that?

Well, most of us grew up with this idea that the world is antagonistic. There is a constant battle of good and evil. We are either winners or losers. This is an example of dualism.

Dualism comes from the Latin word duo which means two. The two in this case are two poles. These two poles are opposites like light and dark or hot and cold. We only know one because of the other.

All of life is dualistic in nature. Even things we don’t think of as having an opposite do. Older language show this understanding in the way they are structured. For example, in English when we say the moon, there is nothing to indicate that the moon has gender. However, French, Spanish, Italian, Welsh, and German nouns all have gender. The moon is feminine; the sun is masculine. The earth is feminine; the sky is masculine.

Unlike with the western view of good guys and bad guys, winners and losers, many older cultures see these pairs working together to create balance. You can’t ever “conquer” darkness because it’s a necessary part of wholeness. It’s not bad because there really is no bad. The only time something is “bad” is when it’s the wrong thing at the wrong time or perhaps the wrong amount.

For example, many people don’t like bats or poisonous snakes. They both serve a purpose within nature, but you probably don’t want them in your house. They are better off in their own habitat where they can eat mosquitoes and mice. If you have one snake in the yard by the woodshed, it is no big deal. If your yard is overrun with them, that’s probably not so comfortable. So instead of thinking in terms of good or bad, try thinking about “Is this balanced” or “Is this in the right place at the right time?”

Here Are Some Ways to Make This Idea Useful.

If you see something that makes you think, ask yourself:

  • how is this energy present in me?
  • how does this fit within the whole? (whole life, universe, society, day, etc)
  • what opposite can I tap into to bring balance to this?
  • since this isn’t “bad,” how can I move into a space of acceptance with this?
  • if I don’t need to fix this, do I need to do anything at all?
  • if I try to annihilate this, how might I create imbalance?
  • how can I work with this?
  • if this is not the right thing at the right time in the right amount, what can I do to balance things out?

When you see things through the lens of complimentary dualism, it’s like looking at the yin/yang symbol. The symbol is a whole. It doesn’t work if you remove the white part. It would be meaningless and without context. At the same time, the energy of the white (masculine) side is different from the black (feminine). And there is no way to divide it so that you get a piece that is all white or all black. One depends on the other for balance.

This idea can help you to see how you fit within your family, job, neighborhood, community, and planet. It could give you a connection to your past through your ancestors and future through the descendants. It could help you to see that you’re important. What you do matters. You are connected to the trees, the sky, the animals. You’re in everything. Everything is in you. You can’t do anything without impacting the whole. What others do impacts you.

Are you feeling supremely powerful and important now? You should. You are. In the animist world, all things are. We are all One.