Towards a Radical Gnostic Animism
It’s time to acknowledge that everything is Alive
This Place is Full of Spirits. In fact, underneath the genius loci present within the spaces humanity resides is a palpable Fullness (Gr. pleroma), a Life Force accessible to anyone who takes the time to encounter it. Most cultures have recognized this as fact, for most of human history. Although currently de rigour in many circles to deny this statement, as someone who has spent the last few years immersed in the study of holistic living systems, I cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is, in fact, the case.*
Within this time of changes (and the author will not insult his readers’ intelligence by acknowledging so-called “climate critics”), it is essential for humans who feel so called or inclined to reground ourselves within this paradigm. As a proponent of participatory ecology, a student of “spirituality,” a gardener, “forager,” and parent, I’ve come to conclude that our best way of interacting with our world may be described as a Radical Animism.
His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
Jesus said, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘here it is’ or ‘there it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” — Gospel of Thomas, 113
Why Animism Now?
The fundamental observation of Gnosticism is that the world in which we live is imperfect. If the world in which we live is imperfect and subject to imperfection, then the fact that humanity is subject to increasing difficulties due to climate change makes sense. Sure, it may not be a complete given, but it makes more sense to assume that things are going to become more difficult for us than the opposite.
If things become more difficult for us, it’s likely due to the Control Systems of the Rulers of this place, both those who are transcendent (called “Archons” by the Gnostics) and those who are interested in maintaining the status quo. Since the status quo is radical capitalism and environmental degradation, the best way to counter the Archons is to act against radical capitalism and environmental degradation.
We can best do this through Gnosis. Gnosis is a threefold experience consisting of Awakening (Word+Wisdom). In other words, and in this context, gnosis is awakening to our current state as free entities trapped within control systems (a sublime, indescribable understanding); learning the “word,” or methods used to understand these control systems (be it plant lore, activism, or communion with spirits); and becoming wise enough to use these methods to help humanity escape the status quo by becoming sufficient (into which we will go further later in the series). And, outside of the control systems, to recognize the fullness of the spirits who reside in our ecosystems.
Recognizing these spirits can help get you unstuck. It can help you make sense of the world. And, it’s really cool to establish connections with tree spirits and the like. You don’t need to move to the woods, or start an urban farm, or deal with insane checklists of gardening skills or canning abilities. You can contribute in your own way; even growing one head of lettuce in a pot outside of your front door makes a little scrape in the prison wall, and enough scrapes in the wall equals a hole.
Yes, the Permacultural paradigm has, what I think, is the most promise in this regard, but there’s more to this approach than gardening. This is a way of looking at the world that’s just as feasible if you get all of your food at Burger King, and only drink Coca-cola. It’s just as much how you interact with things as it is what you do.
My hope isn’t to start any “movements” or schools of thought. My hope is to describe, in some detail, an appealing and, in many ways, new view of Animism for those interested. It may get a little spooky, and a little weirder than you’re used to, but I hope you’ll come along and join in the conversation, because it also may be fun.
*To rehash this argument would serve no purpose for most readers of this site; indeed, this discussion has resided within the meta-text of Western philosophy and spirituality for at least the last few thousand years.