Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

How and Why to Awaken the Animist Spirit in Your Magick

Crystals and Candles in a Forest

When people feel ill at ease, there's a tendency to reach for things that help you feel grounded, more safe and stable. This is as true for people of any background as it is for people who follow witchcraft. One of the trends in witchcraft that some have noted is that it is during times of the greatest social upheaval when increases have occurred in the popularity of the craft. The craft can be a powerfully seductive force. If you're someone who falls outside of what the dominant culture has deemed is acceptable, the allure of the craft can be particularly poignant; it's empowering to find a worldview that says not only are you powerful, but here are the tools for empowering yourself further and having a wonderful, fulfilling life, no matter what anyone else has to say.

Each time witchcraft surges in popularity, it trends a little different. The era creates the witch it needs. Witches of today have different methods of communication, different pressures, and different needs than witches did when I was a teenager and young adult coming up in the 90s and 2000s, which in turn were different than those pf the 70s and 80s, and so on. But even with the differences, there are enough similarities that witches across generations will recognize one another. The formality or informality of ritual notwithstanding, witchcraft has always had its own particular flavor.

Animism is one such trend within the craft (and beyond) that's emerging now. Animism is, by my definition, the practice of recognizing, communicating, and working with the other-than-human beings in the natural and spirit world. It acknowledges the will, desires, and inherent rights that other beings in our world have, and is behind many of the legal-rights-of-nature arguments that have become popular in recent years. You may recall recently hearing something about a river that was legally given personhood status, and thus all of the legal protections that offers. That river, the Wahnganui in New Zealand, was actually followed by several others, including some in Canada and the United States.

In some ways animism has always been there, bubbling below the surface, a force actively stirring the cauldron of the craft. There have always been animists within witchcraft and there have always been animist leanings even amongst those who would never have labeled themselves as such. Spirit partnerships, magickal animal companionship, and creating relationships with plants, animals, stones, and trees are all animistic in tone and very often, practice.

But why now? What about our particular time has people viewing TikTok videos with #animist tags more than 6 million times? There are probably multiple factors including the biggest: environmental existentialism, the fear of what our future looks like because of environmental changes. But the general cultural estrangement from the natural world that has become increasingly pervasive over recent years is another factor. Also, when I've talked to witches about concerns them, there's a strong sense that we as humans have lost the script on what it means to be part of our world.

Why Might You Want to Consider Animism as an Approach to Your Craft?
First of all, be warned. A worldview centered around animism, especially in the context of witchcraft, can feel like a slow practice. The immediacy of TikTok videos notwithstanding, it takes a long time to cultivate the relationships required to fully work the practice. But in that slowness is a kind of beauty. Why would you want another part of your life that feels like the rest of frenetic and chaotic parts? In a culture that summons the old refrain, "Who has time for…?" making time for yourself and your practice feels like taking a meaningful stand. Plus, when people at work ask you what you do in your free time, being able to say, "I hang out with birds" or, "I sit in quiet communication with mugwort" can be liberating. And funny to see their reactions.

The deeper reason behind the why of it, though, is that we need it. In our craft, we need more people who are centering the importance of developing relationships with the beings with whom we work. As the informal survey of witch-friends I mentioned earlier revealed, we're out of touch and need to remember what it means to be a part of our living world. We, as humans, bear a particular responsibility because of our ability to impact our planet on such an enormous scale. It means making different choices and it definitely means taking greater accountability for our species. We, as witches, bear the burden of understanding that there's a deeper metaphysical responsibility. I can't speak for all witches, but I know for my own part that dead or alive, I'll always be a part of this universe. I'll always be interconnected with all the beings who occupy it, above, below, and between. My animist witchcraft serves as a guiding star to ensure that while I might not always succeed at fulfilling my responsibility, I am aware of it and am making efforts to center it.

It's not about concocting a spell with a laundry list of herbs or stones that bear no significance to you but about spending the time knowing them, understanding them, and then deciding if you have the ability to work together to create the outcome you desire with a spell. This is why common kitchen herbs and plants that I grow myself, like basil, thyme, oregano, rue, mint, lemon balm, and mugwort, all factor so heavily in my own spellwork, even more so than traditional herbs. They're plants with which I have a direct relationship; I have spent time getting to know their personalities, and have utilized that partnership because sometimes the work you do with friends or colleagues who you know well has better results. Working with those who aren't invested one way or another about your success can still work, of course, or we wouldn't have the deep herbariums that we do, but the extra effort on your part can really go the extra mile in realizing positive outcomes of your workings.

How to Start Shifting Your Awareness Towards an Animist Worldview
Very briefly, it's about connecting. The through-line for humanity since the industrial revolution has been to atomize, to break things down into their smallest parts. This was done in the name of creating efficiencies and then eventually in the name of creating as much monetization opportunity as possible. We spend all of our lives in a mindset that is self-centered and isolated, which isn't always a terrible thing (I enjoy having time to myself and doing what I want just as much as anyone). The pendulum, though, may have swung too far.

Connecting with yourself, with your family and friends, with the home you live in, the land you occupy, and the history and ancestors of where you are become wonderful antidotes to the atomization of yourself, your soul(s), and your perception of the world.

  1. Connect with Yourself: Take time to spend time in contemplation of who you are. What do you value? Are you living your values? What might it look like if you were able to? Journal regularly, even if it's via voice or video. Find the areas of yourself that need to be healed and begin working on them, with a therapist or doctor if necessary, but also personally. Are there areas of your life that have surged out of control? What would it look like and what might you need to address in order to bring back some balance?

  2. Connect with Your Home: I've always sort of believed that a house has its own spirit that characterizes it. My relationship with that idea shifted dramatically, though, when one of my teachers told me to set up a house altar to give offerings and be able to have a point of communication with that spirit. Even if you're not someone who inherently feels that there is a spirit of your house, or if you feel a bad or negative relationship with it, try out setting up a space with a candle or some incense or a small offering of food for a while. Be consistent and just say, "Thank you for being the spirit that resides here," and see if your relationship shifts, changes, or awakens.

  3. Connect with the Land: This is a big one, and not something easily covered in a single post. Start researching the natural environment where you live, even if it's in a city (you’re not alone, most of us do these days). Begin to understand the watershed, the landscapes that typify your area, what forms the bedrock beneath you; make a trip to a park or wilderness to leave offerings (I usually recommend water or something simple) to the spirits of the land. Sit in contemplation and meditation and see what, or who, pops up for you.

  4. Connect with the Residents of the Land: This kind of goes together with connecting with the land itself, but take time to research the fauna and flora of where you are. If you find yourself noticing the same kind of animal, bird, lizard, tree, or plant, find out if they're common to your area. Where I live, mockingbirds are very common, but that doesn't take away from their specialness. I've worked to cultivate relationships not simply with the birds who live in my neighborhood themselves but also the over-arching spirit of mockingbird to cultivate greater communication and cooperation.

  5. Connect with the History of Where You Live: The people who have lived and passed on in a place are still present, and can be connected with. Visiting graveyards and local historical societies or digging into the geological record are great ways to discover what has helped define the character of where you live and give some inroads for finding its animate spirit. Even, as is the case in much of North America, when existing or imported populations have been isolated, pushed out, or worse. It's a sensitive topic, but as spiritual people we need to bring awareness and recognition to those who have come before us and even potentially hurt by our own blood ancestors. We will not be able to heal those wounds in our lived lives, but sensitivity and awareness are key factors for beginning the process.

Find a deeper dive of this discussion in my book Path of the Moonlit Hedge: Discovering the Magick of Animistic Witchcraft.

About Nathan M. Hall

Nathan M. Hall is a witch, animist, initiate of the Anderson Feri Tradition, and member of the Temple of Witchcraft. He serves on the board of the annual Mystic South Conference and is a contributor and editorial advisor for ...

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