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.
In 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.
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.”
My 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.
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.