The Path of the Hard Animist

By Jack Wolf

I thought I would share a bit about an exchange I recently had with a Pagan gentleman who seemed to feel that as animists go there is a limit to what one can consider alive in the multiverse. Our conversation, though reasoned and respectful, was initiated by his questioning how Thornish people could possibly be hard animists in a world filled with moderates.

Before I go any further I should do a little explaining here, for the benefit of those good readers who might not be familiar with the concepts I’m covering here. In the Thornish tradition, which of course I am qualified and permitted to talk about here, we consider ourselves to be hard animists. So what is a Hard Animist you might ask?

Let’s start with an even more basic question: What is an animist?

The accepted answer to this is that an animist is a person who subscribes to animism; that worldview which holds that in creation human beings are not the only creatures to possess a spiritual essence. It is generally accepted that animists ascribe many things in the world with having a spirit, including the many other life-forms which share the planet with us.

Many years ago an elder in the Thornish tradition, a teacher and seer named Agnarr-the-Bear or Agnarr Björn, noted that even among animists there appeared to be varying degrees of understanding with regard to what can be considered to possess spirit; what can be considered to be alive on both a spiritual and a physical level. Some people believed that only living creatures (within the accepted biological parameters of what we accept as living) could be said to have spirit. Others held that there were a great many beings which fell outside of the parameters we humans generally accept, and encompassed all things in nature as being alive and imbued with spirit.  Master Agnarr, for the sake of understanding  these modalities (or degrees of belief) called the first category, those which saw only biologically living (material) things as having the potential to hold spirit, Soft Animists. The second category, in which all things in nature were seen as having spirit-potential, he called Moderate Animists, or moderates for short.

A Moderate Animist for instance, sees all things in nature as having the potential to be imbued with spirit and possibly even intelligence. To the Moderate Animist one should take into account things like rocks and rivers and oceans, elemental forms such as wind and fire too, as having these potentials.

In the Thornish way of thinking though, there is yet another level of understanding which lies beyond even that of the Moderate. This is the realm of the Hard Animist.

In the Thornish worldview a hard animist is a person who holds that everything in existence has the possibility of holding not only spirit, but also of life and to varying degrees even intelligence. Thus anything we can possibly interact with (here in the material plane and possibly beyond) is potentially alive and full of spirit. This includes human-made objects, artifacts, tools and especially machines. Why is this? It is because Thornish people at least (and probably many others) believe that in this manifold existence we refer to as the multiverse, quite literally everything, from the rocks beneath your feet to the hat on your head is potentially vibrating with the energy of life and spirit. Sometimes an inanimate object may be infused with spirit at the moment of its creation or perhaps, in the cases of things which have had a lot of contact with other already living things, the essence of the spirit may be shared or passed along. Think of the relationships some people have with their automobiles or their work tools. Think of the relationship of so many soldiers in the field with their rifles or side-arms. How about the many tales from the old world which tell of the spirits imbued into swords or bows? I know people working in various industries who have names for their tools or vehicles or boats, etc, and certainly do consider them to be in some way ‘alive’.

Thornish people are like this. In the realm of possibilities for life and spirit – and even intelligence – we feel it is good to be open to all possibilities. As a result, we are, almost all of us, with few exceptions, Hard Animists.

So, back to the conversation I was talking about at the beginning of this post. The gentleman with whom I was conversing found it very difficult to believe that Hard Animists could actually hold that literally everything around us was in some way alive. He asked me if I thought things like oil were alive, or even that aluminum beer can which had fallen out of the recycling bin on the street and was rolling merrily along.

“Is the oil not quite literally the blood of the Earth?” I asked in response. “Is the can not made out of metal, which is literally the material of the planet? If so how can you be so sure that it doesn’t contain the energies that flow all around us out of the Earth? Why not hold a deeper respect for such things and as a proper steward, make sure they are treated/used accordingly? Perhaps if people were to thing twice about such things rather than cling to the illusions which have come from so-called ‘resource-extraction-economies’ then our planet might not be in the mess it currently finds itself in.”

“What about machines?” The fellow asked. “Surely you don’t believe that a collection of bolts and gears, like a car for instance, can have a spirit?”

I believe that spirit can inhabit pretty much anything. Of course this is in various degrees, depending upon many factors, but indeed why not? The idea is, to Thornish people at least, that the more of the sacred we learn to comprehend in our day-to-day world, the more we realize the powerful need that exists for human beings to return to their role as stewards.

When you respect something or at least acknowledge something you are on the road to proper stewardship.

Recently I was reading about the concept of transanimism, which is a relatively new school of thought, and which supposes that as humans interface more and more with machines, the more of our consciousness and spirit will meld with said devices. Some transanimists believe that machines are quite capable of developing consciousness so why not spirit? In such ways the concept of transanimism follows a very similar path to what Thornish people have dubbed ‘Hard Animism.’

In the end it is about personal choice of course; what to define our lives with and how to execute our beliefs through actions. To a Thornsman such as myself it is also about trying to see the bigger picture, and find where everything fits together.


About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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