Why “Radical” Animism?
There is a Fullness in Everything
Rather than “Life Force,” “Force,” “Tao,” “Chi,” etc., or the vast and utilitarian catalog of definitions of life proffered by biologists, philosophers, and phenomenologists, I’ve lately found myself returning to a concept referred to in ancient Gnostic thought as “The Fullness.” Without going into too much theology, it’s a really interesting way to think of what makes something ‘alive, and doesn’t have so many connotations or cultural contexts (as opposed to “Chi,” “Tao,” and so on). I think even a non-deist could potentially get behind this concept (although I’m not a non-deist, so won’t be exploring that direction).
The Fullness is an abstract quality that’s impossible to describe. It could be understood as “chi” or whatever, but in a way it’s more generic. It’s like an “emergence” (as described in Tim’s article), but also, I think, it’s the potential for a thing here in this Reality (whatever THAT is) to host life and to host spirits. I think it’s something that can be tapped into as a place within the non-physical “realms,” and it’s something that, once you’ve experienced it, you can learn to recognize and participate in.
Thanks to the systems of the world we’ve created (more in a future article), many of us have lost the ability to recognize the Fullness. However, working in Ecospheres, growing and harvesting plants, participating in ecology, and understanding the relationship between the knowledge and wisdom these things entail can spark an “Awakening.” When this happens, you start to notice the realms of the Fullness within the systems in which, and which with you participate.
In fact, this is the next quality of the Fullness I think bears mentioning:
The Fullness invites participation.
And, this is what makes radical animism “RADICAL.” According to one worldview, in many modern spiritual systems, only “nature” and people contain the spirits. Man-made objects are, well, man-made, and unable to house or manifest spiritual qualities. However, I believe that the Fullness can be recognized in EVERYTHING, and once you have the capacity to recognize it, that Fullness can increase the value of your interactions.
This isn’t a totally outlandish idea — some cultures manifest this in different ways. For example, you may have seen this in the news lately, about a trend in Thailand where people are having priests invite spirits into dolls. Here’s a typically dismissive materialist example:
There's a hot new trend in Thailand where people buy lifelike dolls they believe will bring good fortune. And it's not…jezebel.com
I’ll admit, when I first read the article, I thought it was a little unusual. But, then, why? Why not? If it gives people a connection, a way to increase their participation with the Fullness, what’s the problem?
There are vestiges of this idea present in our culture as well. Anybody recognize this?:
To go even further, every crafts-person, laborer, or worker worth his or her ‘cup of tea’ has had a tool that he or she favored, possibly even named, and in some way considered “alive.” To me, this indicates a recognition, no matter how tenuous, of the Fullness present in that object.
This is one of my favorite tools:
It’s a cheap pair of Fiskars brand gardening snips. It’s perfect for foraging expeditions because it’s small, sharp, and easy to hold. I’ve had my current pair for a few years now, and I’ve started to think of it like this:
Say what you will, but thinking of my snips as “alive” deepens my participation with them. I take better care of them, treat them with more respect, and this, to me, convinces me that they are Full of Spirit.
Whether it’s my trusty hori-hori, my favorite pen at work, even my cellphone, I’ve started trying to treat everything around me in the same way: as a Living Participant in the Fullness.
I’m not recommending everybody go around gluing googly eyes on favorite tools, but there’s a certain incontrovertible increase in efficacy when you start seeing the world this way. It allows you to find Allies in even the most unexpected places.
Here’s an old “cinnamon broom” we picked up at Trader Joe’s this winter. My four year old son and I spent an evening transforming it into a spirit that now hangs on our front door, protecting us from malevolent influences:
Make of it what you will.
Now, before I get too carried away, there’s another, deeper aspect of the Fullness that I want to mention because it will become relevant in later discussions. The Fullness, as I understand it, isn’t just a “force” or a presence: it’s also a place. It’s both the spirit, and the House of Spirits. It’s a liminal realm of light and shadow that exists over, under, within, and between the sensory world. In a way, it comes back to that quote from the Gospel of Thomas I included in the last article, a quote I’ll paraphrase as, “The Fullness is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.”
When you start recognizing the Fullness in things, however, you do start to see it. In a way it also fits in with Invironment’s mission of “making the inner like the outer.” It’s spooky shit, man. But, it can be learned (one of the best ways is via wild plant identification, believe it or not), and this is a subject I’m interested in pursuing.
This is an introductory, cursory overview, and just the beginning of an ongoing conversation. I’d certainly be interested in hearing readers’ thoughts!