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Peace, spirituality, values, and activism
from a Jesus perspective

Dislocated Animism

A post from Shawn Sanford Beck, whom I interviewed a couple months ago (here & here). Enjoy!

Moving is hell. Yes, there is the excitement of a new place, and the sense of a fresh start.  There is an awareness of freedom and privilege, especially when you compare moving to the experience of fleeing war, persecution, disaster.  But still, moving is generally a drag–in my experience anyway.  Who wants to sign up voluntarily for collecting boxes, sorting, packing, lifting, shifting, scheduling, changing addresses, unpacking, and getting used to a whole new place?

And then there are the goodbyes.  This is probably the hardest part of moving … leaving our neighbours, our friends, sometimes even our frenemies (who are at least familiar to us!).  Saying goodbye is a royal pain in the arse, and I don’t know anyone who does it particularly well … it is too much like dying.

As an animist, there is an extra layer of leave-taking.  When your friends and relations are not only human, but include multiple trees, animals, landforms, bodies of water, gardens, and an assortment of various farm and nature spirits, saying goodbye gets really messy.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been very intentional about building relationships with the more-than-human world of our small off-grid homestead.  This has involved discovering and following protocols–daily, monthly, and seasonal cycles of ceremony–and learning to treat the various entities of the “natural world” as people, rather than things.  All of this has shifted to the foreground that which is usually experienced as background.

So when we had to move last month, all of these relationships were impacted.  Of course, I’m under no illusions that the loss of the friendships was more heartbreaking for me than for the trees, the lake, the tomten, wights, and mimikwasis of the land.  They’ve been around for a loooong time, and have seen many generations of humans come and go.  But as relational beings, these comings and goings must have some type of impact, and so I spent the past six months gradually saying goodbye. 

I was intentional about it … perhaps more intentional than with my human friends to whom I also had to say goodbye.  I spent time in my grove, communing with the spirits, blessing them, and trying to give an honest account of why I was leaving. Because as the resident Christian druid, I felt a bit like I was betraying them.  Abandoning them.  

Again, I don’t want to harbour any illusions about their dependence on me.  But I had made some commitments.  I had “pledged my troth”, so to speak, to the more-than-human community in which we were embedded.  I had been on a journey of mutuality and respect within a (hopefully somewhat) symbiotic relationship.  I had become a friend.

Animism is, by definition and practice, a distinctly bioregional cosmology.  It is as local and particular as it gets.  Which is why dislocation, from an animist perspective, is particularly painful.  In our hyper-mobile society, the near constant dislocation – relocation cycle takes a heavy toll on our interspecies relationships.  Zoom can’t really help us with this, but perhaps there are prayers and practices which can make moving, for an animist, a bit more life-giving?  I’d be happy to hear from others who may have some advice… in the meantime, blessed be.

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