A Sneak Peek at HARP Beyond the Veil

Copyright Jonathan Cassie and Iron Crown Enterprises Ltd © 2019

Edited by Kristen Mork for The Guild Companion

"Contemporary anthropology has coined the term the Dreamtime to describe the indigenous Australian creation stories and worldview."

Animistic and Indigenous Traditions

Animistic traditions are, in essence, about indwelling spirits.

The earliest of all human spiritual systems are collectively described as animist. Animistic traditions hold that man-made and natural objects have a spiritual dimension to them. These objects could be virtually anything depending on the animistic system in question. Oftentimes this will include animals and plants as well as physical features like mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, oceans, caves, forests and the like. The unique combination of features to which a spiritual charge is granted depends on the animist spiritual system in question. Some place a great deal of weight on environmental features. Others place their weight on physical phenomena like the coming of winter, for example, or the ways in which the sun behaves during certain times of the year (like at a solstice) as opposed to other times. They may give greater significance to lifespan changes in the human experience, like first menstruation or first ejaculation or pregnancy. In short, animist spiritual systems focus their energies on the spiritual dimension of the natural world and natural phenomenon, ascribing spiritual qualities to these phenomena in keeping with the deepest teachings of the traditions.

Animistic traditions occur on every continent and have been maintained on every continent. These traditions frequently tell stories of animating spirits that have given the people and the land the people live in their unique identities, perspectives and qualities. They serve to provide a kind of spiritual/moral/ethical glue to bind the people together and to serve as a way of differentiating the people from other kinds of people.

The Haida people who live in Haida Gwaii off the northwestern coast of Canada, for example, describe themselves as the “children of the raven and the eagle.” The whole of the Haida people are divided into either the raven clan or the eagle clan and marriages in the Haida tradition are conducted between ravens and eagles, but never between two ravens or two eagles, for example. The animistic tradition of the Haida was designed to tell stories about the arbitrary nature of the natural world and how that world could seem to turn on the people without warning. Many of the stories involving raven, for example, speak to this truth about the difficulties of living in an environment that could be both nurturing at times and unforgivingly brutal at others. The Haida had a special class of people who functioned as intermediaries between the natural world and the people. We call these people shamans. Haida shamans were responsible for influencing the weather, healing the sick and ensuring that there was an adequate harvest of the seafood that constituted the largest part of their diet. Because the spirit world was a living, tangible, dangerous reality, the shamans were empowered to use their own ritual practices to intercede with the spirit world in the service of the people.

The indigenous peoples of Australia have hundreds of differing traditions that could be described as animist. These people’s stories have a strong tendency to capture meaning in landscape features and to assign these features meaning specific to each of these different perspectives/traditions. The rich complexity of the stories told in indigenous Australian communities function not just to tell the spiritual story of the land and the people who live in the land, but also to explain the origin of the land and of civilization itself. Contemporary anthropology has coined the term “the Dreamtime” to describe the indigenous Australian creation stories and worldview. This term speaks to the act of Creation itself, to the work of ancestral heroes who strode the land and made it fertile and to the ongoing spiritual significance of certain places in the lives of indigenous Australians. Present in the traditions of many indigenous Australians is stories of the Rainbow Serpent, an immense snake who is associated with water. This association often imparts to the Rainbow Serpent a function akin to a creator deity.

There are broad similarities between these traditions and ancient European animistic beliefs. Celtic people in Ireland, for example, integrated the supernatural and the natural world by infusing a spiritual charge into many if not most geographical features. They were especially likely to venerate trees and in particular the oak and ash, due to the spiritual charges these trees possessed because of their role in ancient stories. The ancient Irish were particularly concerned to honor sources of water. Because Ireland is an island in the north Atlantic, weather could be both a boon or a destructive force. For this reason, Celtic animism locates great importance to storms, thunder and lightning.

Vodun, a spiritual system that derives from West Africa that spread to the Americas in the African diaspora (in particular to Haiti), possesses many similarities with the aforementioned traditions. Indeed, its traditions are often resonant with religions that derive from the Abrahamic tradition, in particular Roman Catholicism. Vodun followers associate themselves with particular clusters of spirits who are called Loa (a word which means mystery in the Yoruba language). The vodun priest class (which can be either male or female) enacts rituals whose point is to initiate some favorable encounter with one or more of these Loa in order to obtain a boon or benefit, like improved heath or protection from misfortune.