"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. "
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Becoming An Animist, Or Why I Gave Up All My Shit

By Fionnlaech

When I was thirteen my parents told me that they would buy me my weight in books.

They did this too encourage the stunted growth in my taste for reading. Well... it worked. I read all the books I could (mostly science fiction and fantasy) and for the first time I started to collect stuff with the intention of keeping it for a long time. I collected sci-fi books, Magic: The Gathering cards, music, and comics. They bought a computer for me and I began to use it for games and surfing the internet. Years passed and I built up a decent book collection (1000 books ish) and card collection ($1500 when I sold it). When I left for college I took everything I could with me and put the rest in storage. I picked up new interests and started collecting camping equipment, weapons, and religious tools. During my time in college and after my household grew by, in no particular order, several fish, a wife, two snakes, two cats, a husband, and a few dogs. In addition I kept a good deal of clothes, machining tools, and a large collection of stuffed animals.

But I was unhappy.

The reasons why I was unhappy are far too complicated to get into in this writing but a little piece of it was stuff. I kept feeling that I had too much... stuff. When I got divorced I took the opportunity find homes (I now deeply regret that “home” mostly meant “landfill” at the time) for my MTG collection, clothes, stuffed animals, weapons, camping equipment, games, and most of my books. Just doing that made me feel so much better... but I didn’t know why. Fast forward a year.

I was unhappy again.

The end of a relationship had brought the happiest 6 months of my life to a close and I felt uncomfortable with my living space again. I had a tv, computer monitor, tables, chairs, other furniture, appliances, utensils, xbox, wii, the remainder of my book collection, and I was trying to figure out what the fuck to do with it all. After much consideration I decided to give it all away (I found better homes this time) which made me feel much better, but again I didn’t know why. This time I decided to figure it out.

I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a while and I have an hypothesis: it’s all about animism. For those who aren’t familiar with animism I’ll use Graham Harvey’s definition: “[Animism] ...is a way of living that treats the world as a community of living beings, persons, most of whom are other-than-human.” My paganism always had a quietly animist thread but as the years have passed I have found it braiding with other parts of my wyrd to become an increasingly large part of my spirituality. If we take seriously the idea that EVERYTHING in our lives is a person (who just doesn’t often happen to be human) then what does that say about the stuff we touch? Your Wii is the gaming buddy who comes over and hangs out with you. Your forks, knives, and napkins become your caregivers. Your handkerchief becomes the friend you invite over when you need someone to be there when you cry.

I’ve known for years that I am not a really social person. I like have a few close friends and cordial, but shallow, relationships with everyone else. What I unconsciously realized is that my life made no sense unless I applied that to the non-human persons in my life. When I was living with my husband and wife I think a part of me felt that I couldn’t have the kind of intense relationship that makes me happy if I had so many roommates (furniture, shower curtain, microwave) and friends (books, computer games, camping equipment) who lived with us, no matter how much I enjoyed their company individually. The living space in Seattle didn’t work because I brought most the stuff I had with the thought that someone else would be spending a great deal of time there. Imagine how you would feel if you signed an apartment lease for three people, moved in, and the third person never showed.

This helps me explain some of my past motivations and aids my understanding of current relationships in my life. Clothes for example. I’ve noticed that since I got rid of so many clothes over the past year I have enjoyed the company of the clothes I have much more. In addition, my buying patterns have changed. If entertainment objects are the friends of the non-human world our clothes are surely our lovers. The are constantly in contact with us, touching us, caressing us. We take the clothes we find most attractive out on dates. They see us at our most vulnerable. They are frequently the only external objects we take with us to the grave.

Last year, with a few exceptions, I stopped buying new clothes. I now shop almost exclusively at thrift stores. The change was partially due to cost but a big part was that what I looked for in a relationship changed. I wanted clothes that were experienced, that have scars, that have stories. Not some naive freshly starched virgin shirt that I have to patiently train about the ways of the world, about loving. The exceptions are for clothes that already seem perfect for me (how often have we all disobeyed our iron-clad dating rules for that one hottie who seems into us). I now understand my clothes much better. If I look at my favorite clothes the way I do a lover my feelings make much more sense. In my human lovers I look for people who will accompany me on otherworldly journeys and whose blood I can share. My corset, my hakama both make much more sense to me if I think of them as fluid-bonded lovers, the gods know I have bled on them enough.

This is why animism appeals to me as a way of life (animism, as I think about it, is less of a religion and more of a way to walk through the world) that will foster a more sustainable future. If you try to live an environmentally friendly life it is easy to get turned off by all the choices thrust upon you. Here’s a thought path that I cycle through. “Ok, I want to actually act environmentally friendly on a daily basis. How should I do that? Should I take public transport everywhere? What if I like visiting friends outside of the bus route? Do I buy organic or local? Which is better? What if I don’t have the money for that? Why should I buy expensive light bulbs? What is the right choice? ARRGGHH I GIVE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!! *sigh* I’ll try this again when I have more money.”

Animism makes simpler for me, although not easier. Animism doesn’t ask us to always make the right choices about stuff, just that we treat it with dignity.

Every. Single. Thing.