Not the Monthly Post

A Few Notes on Nature Spirits, Part Two: Into A Living World

Last week’s post here on dealt with some of the reasons why so many people in today’s industrial societies are acutely uncomfortable with the suggestion that the forces and processes of nature might be persons rather than things. That’s what we’re discussing, after all, when we talk about nature spirits. The world of spirits, as it’s understood by occult philosophy, isn’t some alien realm whose inhabitants leap through into our world, violating natural laws with impunity; the world of spirits is the inner side of the world we experience with our senses.

I’m probably going to have to explain that, and then repeat it several times in different ways, because it flies in the face of some of our culture’s most deeply entrenched notions about reality.  Thus people who’ve been raised in Western industrial societies are very good at not processing it and not thinking about it. Operative mages—people who practice magic, the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will—don’t live in some flashy otherworld like Middle-Earth, or even in a “wizarding world” linked with the ordinary world via anomalous train stations and the like. They live in the same world that scientific materialists do, and they’re subject to the same natural laws that scientific materialists are.

What makes the operative mage’s experience of the world differ from the scientific materialists’ experience is that the mage encounters the world through a wider range of senses than the materialist, and so perceives aspects of the world that the materialist doesn’t. The other senses just mentioned aren’t anything strange or exotic; everyone has them—but in most of the modern industrial world, children are thoroughly bullied and browbeaten if they admit to perceiving anything that they’re not supposed to perceive. As a result, by the time they grow up, most of them have learned not to use these senses, or at least not to talk about what they perceive, on the occasions when they encounter something that can’t be ignored.

In the discussion that followed last week’s post, a Shinto priestess who reads this blog (tip of the druidical hat to Patricia O.), mentioned that when she mentions her priestesshood to people she’s just met, a very large number of them want to talk to her about experiences they’ve had with spirits and other things that, according to scientific materialists, aren’t allowed to exist. I’ve had exactly the same experience in my public appearances as a Druid and a student of occult traditions, and I know many other people with similar qualifications who’ve had the same sort of thing happen over and over again. To judge by these experiences, people all over the industrial world are desperate to talk to anyone who will listen intelligently and sympathetically to what they have to say about experiences of this kind, and not just behave like self-appointed members of the reality police.

The issues involved were framed memorably by the poet William Blake a long time ago:

Now I a fourfold vision see
And a fourfold vision is given to me
It is fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold always. May God us keep
From single vision and Newton’s sleep!

Single vision—the shrill and dogmatic insistence that real knowledge can only come through the material senses, and must never be understood as anything but the random acts of dead matter and mindless energy in a dead and mindless cosmos—pervades contemporary industrial civilization.  It’s because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve gotten so good at manipulating matter and energy, but it’s also because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve done such a dismal job of maintaining the balance of the living planet on which our own lives depend. The old story of King Midas has an uncomfortable parallel here; just as Midas got the power to turn things to gold by touching them, only to discover that his food, his drink, and his daughter also got turned into lumps of yellow metal, we’ve gotten so good at manipulating dead things that we’re only just starting to notice that we’re turning everything around us into dead things, and may well end up turning into dead things in a hurry ourselves if we don’t get a clue or two.

Two of the other three modes of experience Blake was talking about in the poem I’ve just cited are familiar to most if not all of us; again, it’s purely the fact that we were raised in a culture that punishes children for paying attention to such things that keeps us from sharing the fourfold vision he described. You use one of those modes of experience whenever you meet a person or step into a place and pick up what those of us of a certain long-departed subculture used to call the “vibe” of that person or place. That’s a mode of perception as valid as sight or hearing, and like these, it improves through practice and atrophies through neglect.

Like sight or hearing, this other mode is subject to illusions and can’t evade the hard limits of subjectivity, but like sight or hearing, it can also bring accurate and useful information about the world around us. It also has aspects that go well beyond the simple sensing of “vibes” I’ve just mentioned. (I tend to use that simply because almost everyone knows what I’m talking about when I describe it.) The human mind very often casts the experiences that come through this mode in parasensory form: that is to say, you “see” something, or “hear” something, or “touch” something, even though your eyes, your ears, and the nerve endings in your skin don’t seem to be involved at all. Different people have different talents along these lines; there are people who habitually “see things,” or what have you.

That’s the second mode of experience. The third is a little harder to grasp, because our society uses it relentlessly in a one-sided way, and then has to scramble to fit that into the language of single vision; as a result, most of us are really good at not noticing it when it appears. The best way to get a sense of it is to think about what happens when you go from learning something by rote to making sense of it. Take any kind of knowledge that isn’t simply bulk memorization, and you almost certainly go through those two stages; at first it’s just a matter of fumbling your way through things you remember but don’t understand, but at some point things start to click, and you become able to think through them; they become, in a certain sense, transparent to you.

Back in the Middle Ages, before single vision got its claws so deeply embedded in the Western mind, this capacity was called intellectus. You can think of it in English as “understanding,” in the literal sense of standing under something so you can see what makes it tick. It’s a distinctive mode of experience; like the material senses and the perception of “vibes,” it improves through practice and atrophies through neglect, and the aspect of it that shows us how to make existing bodies of knowledge transparent to our awareness is only one of its many uses. It can also be used all by itself, without some existing body of knowledge to direct it. Like the other two modes of experience, it’s fallible and subjective, but like them, it can bring us accurate and useful knowledge of the world that surrounds us.

And the fourth mode of experience, the one that Blake experienced in his “supreme delight”? That’s the mystical experience that’s called satori in Japanese and samadhi in Sanskrit, the integrative insight that makes the entire world transparent to consciousness. Those who have experienced this assure us that nothing that can be said in any human language can do an adequate job of communicating what this mode is about, and so—well, as the saying among mystics goes, of that concerning which nothing can be said, it is best to remain silent.

So we have four modes of experience—in Blake’s phrase, a fourfold vision—and three of these modes are accessible to most of us most of the time. For the sake of convenience, occultists like to use the metaphor of “planes” when talking about what we perceive through these modes of experience. The things we perceive through the five physical senses, in this way of speaking, belong to the material plane; the things we perceive through “vibes,” and the parasensory perceptions that unfold from that mode of experience, belong to the astral plane; the things we perceive through intellectus, the sense of meaning, belong to the mental plane; and the things we perceive though mystical experience belong to the spiritual plane. These planes, again, aren’t different places or mystical otherworlds; they’re all aspects of one and the same world.  You exist in all of them right now. You’ve been existing in all four of them since you were born, and you will continue to exist in all four until you die—

And then you’ll exist in three of them.

That’s the thing about these planes or, to move back from the metaphor a bit, the things we experience through these four modes of experience. The landscapes they show to us aren’t quite identical to one another, and there are things that aren’t present on all four planes. Living human beings exist and can be perceived in all four of them. Dead human beings, and a very broad range of entities that aren’t human and apparently never were, exist and can be perceived in three of them. The single vision of modern industrial society insists that since only one of these planes exists, whatever we perceive on the others is some combination of fraud, delusion, and make-believe. That belief is defended with impressive displays of circular logic, but I’ve discussed that in an earlier essay and we don’t have to get into it now.

There are also beings who exist on all four planes who don’t have the same kind of bodies we do, and nature spirits belong to this category. To make sense of this, we’re going to have to spend a little while talking about the nature of embodiment.

You and I, dear reader, are members of the animal kingdom. That means, among many other things, that our material bodies are more completely differentiated from their environment than the bodies of living things that belong to other kingdoms. That doesn’t mean that we’re entirely separate from our environments, not by a long shot; we constantly absorb things from our environments and release other things into our environments, and about ten per cent of our body weight is made up of microbes of various kinds, without which we can’t survive—but unless you use a microscope, it’s fairly easy to figure out where our bodies stop and the environment starts.

That’s less true of other living things. Plants, for example, are much more integrated with their surroundings than we are. Unlike animals, which cycle the same water around and around in their bloodstreams until it gets used to flush wastes through the kidneys, plants take water in through the roots, use it to haul nutrients up the stem, and then let it out through the leaves. It’s no exaggeration to say that the circulatory system of a plant includes the entire biosphere. The same lack of differentiation is true of plants in other ways, including some of those that are perceived through the other modes of experience we were talking about a few paragraphs back.

There are other living things far less differentiated than plants. Soil ecologists have been pointing out for a long time now, for example, that humus—the organic slime that makes the difference between powdered rock and fertile soil—is for all practical purposes alive. It takes in food, excretes wastes, circulates nutrients, passes information from one part of itself to another, and can even reproduce, when circumstances permit, in much the same way that amoebas do. The difficulty in classifying humus as a living thing is simply that it has none of the boundaries our scientists expect to find in living things: no cell walls or membranes between parts of itself, no skin between it and its surroundings.

To explain nature spirits, in turn, it’s simply necessary to take the same insight a little further, and recognize that there can be other modes of embodiment even less differentiated from the environment than humus. That’s what the traditional lore found in occult literature amounts to: every force and process of nature is the embodiment of a living, conscious entity. Phrased in so bold a way, such a concept invites instant repudiation from those who’ve bought into the conventional wisdom of our age—but for human beings as a whole, around the world and across the arc of recorded history, that conventional wisdom is very much a minority view.

Take any human culture, anywhere, that hasn’t been too heavily influenced by contemporary scientific materialism, or by the prophetic religions that unintentionally laid the foundations for contemporary scientific materialism by way of their radical devaluing of nature. Look at what that culture has to say about the natural world, and odds are you’ll find a set of understandings that make perfect sense from within the perspective suggested here. Shall we take ancient Greece as an example? To the ancient Greeks, even the greatest of the gods and goddesses were closely associated with natural forces. One common way to speak of wet weather in ancient Greece was to say “Zeus is raining.” (Nowadays we say “it’s raining.” What is raining? To the ancient Greeks, the proper interrogative would have been “who?”)

In the same way, Demeter was always closely associated with the soil, to the extent that recent research has shown that sacred groves of Demeter were consistently planted in places well suited to stop soil erosion.  Athena was the goddess of olive groves, and the distinctive ecology that olive domestication produces—and it was from that, and from the cascading ecological and economic effects of olive domestication, that she became a goddess of civilization and the civilized arts and crafts. Pay attention to each of the old gods and goddesses and you can see the force of nature that provides him or her with a body.

It used to be very popular among students of comparative religion to take this equation and insist that it meant that Zeus was “nothing but” the sky, Demeter “nothing but” the soil, and so on. That’s not what the ancient Greeks had in mind, though. To them, Zeus was the sky as the body of a living, conscious entity. Demeter was a life and mind made manifest through the body we call “soil.” What’s more, they extended the same insight down to very localized scales. Poseidon was the god of the sea—in the terms we’re using here, the ocean as the body of a conscious entity—but there were also beings embodied in individual seas and straits and harbors, and indeed in individual waves. In the same way, the smallest spring or grove of trees had its tutelary spirit, a living, conscious entity who was embodied in that spring or grove, and who would respond to certain traditional acts of reverence in certain more or less predictable ways.

That was the basis for the old pagan religions. It’s not going too far at all to think of those faiths, in one of their most important aspects, as a system of practical techniques for communicating with the inner, conscious side of natural forces and processes: a sort of traditional language, composed of those acts we call “rituals,” which helped human communities establish and maintain good relationships with nature. All that was swept away across most of the Western world when a new religious movement redefined religion in puritanical and dogmatic terms disconnected from nature. When Christian zealots backed up by the power of the Roman state ordered the groves of Demeter cut down, they plunged Greece into an ecological catastrophe that can still be measured in thick layers of eroded topsoil on the bottom of the Aegean Sea, and caused population levels in Greece to crash by around 50% over the centuries immediately after: a reminder that when traditional lore claims a god or a goddess will punish certain kinds of impiety very harshly indeed, that claim may not be as superstitious as it looks.

The modern industrial world has inherited that ancient tradition of ecologically ignorant zealotry to a far greater extent than most of today’s scientific materialists like to admit. It’s a source of wry amusement among those of us who take the old lore seriously that fundamentalist Christians and scientific materialists, who claim to disagree about almost everything, have identical reactions to the sort of thing I’ve been discussing: they throw up their hands in horror and denounce it with the strongest label in their vocabulary. For the fundamentalists, that’s “devil worship” and for the materialists, it’s “ignorant superstition,” but the tone of voice is exactly the same whichever phrase gets used.

Look past those cries of pious outrage and it becomes possible to glimpse a world of human experience that most people, through most of history, have treated as perfectly ordinary, but our culture has rejected for reasons of its own: a world full of living, conscious beings embodied in the forces of nature, with whom our species can cultivate mutually beneficial relationships. That world of human experience isn’t restricted to followers of the old religions of nature, or for that matter to the newer traditions along the same lines that are evolving around us today; there are, it deserves saying, plenty of Christians past and present who have found ways to integrate such insights into their own faith, and for all I know there are atheists (for some values of that word) who have managed the same thing, though I’ve yet to meet one.

What I’ve been discussing in this post, after all, is a matter of experience rather than ideology. Stop automatically discounting modes of experience that most human beings have treated as just as valid as the material senses, start paying attention to all the ways in which natural processes behave like subjects rather than objects, and you’ll find yourself stepping into a living world—or, more to the point, realizing that you’ve been in a living world all along. Your perceptions of that world, it bears repeating, are no more infallible than any other human perception; the beings who inhabit that world, for that matter, are not necessarily well-disposed to you, and are certainly not harmless—but it’s a lot less dead in that world than it is in the world that scientific materialists and their fundamentalist kissin’ cousins think they inhabit. For some of us, at least, that’s reason enough to make the transition.


  1. Someone I know made the kind of shift you are talking about after dealing with some substance abuse issues. He is a Star Wars fan so I commented, “You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

    As for intellectus, I remember when I was younger practicing modes and scales on my bass guitar and not really understanding what I as doing. Then one day it just clicked and I could see how all the different modes and scales fit together. Although my teacher had explained the way they fit, it did not fully register until then. I compare it to The Matrix when he sees beyond his surroundings down into the underlying code. On the neck of my bass I could see how things fit together and I then had a basis on which to learn more.

    The same thing is happening right now. I’m learning a Bagua form and it is new and awkward, whereas the forms I have know for sometime are much more familiar and I can even think in their terms to some degree.

  2. Thanks, JMG. Bringing attention to the need for non-ideological and unconditioned attention and awareness is critical in these times. Thanks for all you do.


  3. HI JMG,

    Thank you for another informative post – right up there with the one on reincarnation, and it certainly clarifies many thoughts on understanding the world around us. You’ve consistently pointed out how the influences of modern values and views of the natural world have led to many people that are restricted to a “single vision” existence, and that it takes plenty of hard work, practice and learning about the self to break down the barriers to experience and perceive the aspects of the world other than the material plane.

    While I agree with that view in many ways, and certainly realize I’ve been externally influenced to suppress “all things occult”, I can’t help but think that there may also be a biological factor in play. Even as a child I don’t recall ever experiencing anything “spiritual”, and have met many others over the years in the same boat. It’s as if my brain is a short wave radio, the occult is a large antenna, but there’s no jack or plug available to connect the two. Is it possible that some of us will be restricted to the material plane, at least in this current phase we know as “our lifetime”?

  4. John–

    This pair of essays has been incredibly enlightening (and challenging — I won’t deny that!). A couple of questions, if you don’t mind, to help my hopelessly analytical mindset process and frame things.

    First, re the planes and modes of experience. Are there specific exercises one can do to strengthen one’s ability to perceive in these other modes? Or to direct one’s attention to those modes of experience? In the material realm, I can focus my attention on what I’m seeing or touching or tasting, but how would I accomplish something analogous in the other modes you described?

    Secondly, re forces and other “things” in the world as bodies for spirits. Could you clarify the mental model for me a bit? In the case where we have a universal and a particular — say Athena whose body is all olive groves and a dryad whose body is a particular olive tree — how does the particular relate to the universal? Is the dryad “inside” Athena? Part of Athena? Or is it that this particular dryad has an association with Athena? Or am I reading the analogy too closely? More generally, how to associations in the material realm map to associations in the other three realms?

  5. Been struggling lately with “prayer”. If a deity caused mayhem or otherwise, would it make sense to petition said god to intercede? In a scenario as you describe,dialog with a force of nature, or a ravishing disease might produce results. Not exactly a Christian notion, however.

  6. Congratulations to this tour de force! It is incredible how much reasoning you managed to pack into this essay, all without using difficult words or phrases. It may be your strongest essay ever.

    What you express here, I have for many years felt strongly in Virgil (Aeneas’ ships turning back into nymphs to warn him of impending disaster), in the Silmarillion (the music of Ulmo which is present in all water), in the dryads of Narnia, in the beautiful unfinished cantos of the Fairy Queene and in Charles Williams’ vision of Merlin, Brisen and Nimue, though I have not sought nor experienced it directly.

    One small request: do you have links for your (old) claim that Christian conversion caused erosion in Late Antiquity? I have searched in good faith for evidence and so far haven’t found it. What I have found is claims that the Peloponnesos was teeming with cities until the mid-6th century, almost two centuries after conversion, and then became very rapidly depopulated.

  7. Lots of food for thought here, thank you. I was struck while reading it with the possibility that everything beyond Earth in our supposedly lifeless universe is therefore also living and sentient.

    I’m wondering about aesthetics and the astral plane as you’ve described it: When you’re viewing or making an artwork, and it ‘feels’ right, is it somehow connected to the astral plane? Or is it just your own cultural background that is prompting your response?

  8. Fantastic post John Michael! Beautifully constructed and expressed and an understanding that I believe desperately needs to be more widely adopted. Thank you. Feels like my being is breathing a big sigh of relief.

    Much for me to digest and explore in more detail, but for starters, something that came to mind regarding one aspect of your post. From near the start I kept thinking about Mentats and the Bene Gesserit. Those two groups were always something that excited me a great deal about the universe that Frank Herbert created in ‘Dune’. The thing about them that most got me excited was that their abilities were (mostly) not fantasy. I assume that to many readers, the abilities these characters exhibit appear supernatural and pure sci-fi, however, they’re not. They’re simply the result of focused development and training of standard human physical, sensory and metal capacities. Abilities of these characters such as “prana-bindu”, “truth-say”, “the voice”, prescience and advanced cognitive abilities are merely the result of familiar practices to us in our world that have been honed to the level of competency of mastery. I’m thinking of practices such as those of Shaolin monks, those who develop sensory acuity to identify and interpret bodily (in particular facial) micro expressions and also the use of mental tools such as the mnemonic systems of Bruno and others.

    Reading about senses also made me think about the fact that if you ask most people how many senses they have the answer if usually “five”. This is what most are taught in school in the west (don’t know about the east).
    This common belief ignores all the many other senses that our even our scientific materialist culture recognises such as equilibrioception, proprioception, thermoception, nociception etc. So it’s not surprising that these other senses you describe in your post, that are denied by the pervading culture, are far from common awareness, acceptance or experience. Why did we come to see ourselves as so limited? What an incredible loss. How much more rich could the lives of many more humans be! And, even more importantly (as I think your post suggests), how much more difficult would it be for humans to live so extremely out of harmony with the rest of the entities we share this planet with.


  9. Hello JMG,

    I just wanted to thank you for the public service you’ve been providing to the internet-at-large over the past several years. It’s been a gradual awakening for me, from learning to see and critique instances of the myth of progress as they appear around me, to finding a new (or shall I say old?) approach to seeing the world that I inhabit.

    I have two brief questions, to JMG or whoever might care to reply. First, I’ve always had an affinity with birds and bird societies. When I’m alone and there are birds around, I always talk to them, and it seems to me that they talk back sometimes, or at the very least notice me as a fellow mind, given that I seem to be the only human around who notices them as fellow minds. But when I describe it to others, they always scoff. How real can this be, given that I have yet to begin the process of consciousness control through ritual that you’ve described elsewhere?

    Second, have you found in your experience that there are nature spirits that inhabit urban areas? My intuition says no, and truthfully, the local environs I inhabit feel quite dead in the “single vision” sense, and I constantly feel the call to move to a place that has, you know, “real” Nature. What’s your take on nature spirits inhabiting thoroughly trammeled-under areas?

  10. I came across your writings through my partner, who is an avid reader of your blog. I would, perhaps somewhat sheepishly, introduce myself as one of the kinds of mages you mention in this post. I know what you mean about people wanting to gush about their Experiences when suddenly presented with an opportunity to do so free of judgement. I have long been fascinated by the occult, and the element of shared human experience of it, despite several attempts to discourage my interest throughout my youth! I now practice tarot reading on the regular, often at the price of an equivalent exchange from the querent.
    As I gained experience with my readings, I increasingly found myself developing the sense of ritual around them: I have a dedicated mat upon which I perform my readings, on which I spent months embroidering; I light a stick of incense before I begin, and complete the reading before it is extinguished; I have gathered crystals and items with positive energies in order to shield myself and the querent from negative influences; I have several decks of cards so that the querent can pick one with which they feel an affinity; when the reading is complete, I make a note of the cards, and of their appearance within the spread.
    What initially surprised me was how keen people were to see something relevant to their lives in the cards, when in their daily lives they might readily deny the possibility of the existence of spirits. I remember your previous post on gods in contemporary society – some no longer feel tangible, or even alive, sacrificed on the altar to Progress (I can’t help but see that scene from “Metropolis” in my mind where the hero sees Moloch devouring people as a giant machine god).
    I have since become far more aware of the presences and the energies of those about me in my life than when I set out to gain a better understanding of the spiritual/astral plane, though at times this has come at quite a cost.
    A couple of years ago I wrote a short academic essay on the Séance; it can be found here . In it, I discussed belief as an embodied experience, which was about as close as I could get to saying that the spiritual is very real indeed, without saying it outright!
    I completely concur with your point on how Post-Industrial Western Spirituality has (with great enthusiasm and consistency) crushed the voices and hopes of those with something to say about the nature of the existence of spirits and the spiritual in our world. As far as Eastern philosophy on the matter is concerned, in Japan, several Studio Ghibli films (most notably “Pom Poko” and “Princess Mononoke”) come to mind as desperate cries for a greater respect for Nature in a godless world – one producing tonne after tonne of irreverent plastic waste from the bones of its liquefied ancestors.

  11. May I offer a toast for my castor oil tree, which passed away this last summer when a storm tipped it over. It grew all by itself on the first year we came to live at this house, and putting it down felt like euthanizing a well beloved dog. I tried to preserve a branch and see if it would be strong enough to grow some roots, but the ignorant men that came to haul it’s parent wood away took it as well. I blame my own laziness and entitlement for that last part, BTW.

    Back when the original shrub was no more than 4 ft tall, I met some nature spirit from the nearby park. My wife never had any love for the castor oil plant, and had done a hatchet job of prunning it because it was “in the way”. I was in the process of doing a proper prunning, – if a bit too extensive, but that was the only option left, -when an angry wind blowed at my back. I could feel the anger for the mistreated shrub. I stopped and explained that the plant was already harmed and that this was needed for it to grow healty in the future, and… spontaneously made an offer of a few drops of blood (made a shallow cut to my thumb and pressed it to the soil, then washed my hands in a bucket and spread the blood laced water to all the plants in the front yard.

    The offer was received eagerly, and I got a sense that this spirit had not interacted with a human being for a very long time, maybe since the Spaniards had first come here (though it is hard to tell, FWAK this land was an Ejido some 50 years ago, and rural people have a tendency to keep following old traditions even if they are nominally Christian). A couple of days later, my uncle came to lend a tool, and made a comment that this year was going to be very dry.

    It rained that night, a shallow, gentle rain, but still. And it rained again one or two more times that week,

    I made contact to the spirit several times over the years, but I let the relationship slide as I got more serious with my Catholic practice and considered that it was not proper for me to relate with such being. For some time I kind of talked myself into thinking that it had been the Holy Spirit that came that day. I am not so sure anymore.

  12. Greetings. Your post got me thinking. If nature spirits and ancient polytheistic gods are the conscious side of nature and natural phenomena…. are the different monotheistic gods also the conscious side of something….maybe the different comunities that have faith in them….are they the conscious side of human tribal bodies… does the death of the christian god outlined in some of your previous post signify a desintegration of a specific community that was the body of that specific version of god… does the rebirth of a god mean the reintegration of a new sufficently similar body ( in the sense of a new natural system ) ? Or am I on the wrong track. Sorry if this is too stream of consciousnes like…english is not my native language.

  13. This essay is foundational to post-eurocentric (caucasian invasion) ecosophic understanding. North American native peoples maintaining their cultures today use this same framework to draw distinctions in cultural behavior. We with white skin but a ecosophic outlook have been looking for crossovers for generations, but it’s difficult due to identity politics.
    The more your wisdom is assimilated by our broader populace, the more hope I have that we the people will find common ground and local solutions to living together before our politicians and other paid pundits put post-paid to our republic.

  14. Mind. Thoroughly. Blown.

    Dear Demeter! Loremaster, it’s like the last 6 years of reading your blogs and books all congealed into one magnificent jello creature as I read this! It’s like that moment at the end of “The Matrix” when Neo suddenly “gets it,” and sees the world around him as binary code that he can manipulate. Except that that turns it on its head, completely bass-ackwards, because it’s not reductionist or domineering at all. It’s more like Dorothy waking up in full Technicolor in Oz, realizing that the flowers have little people hiding under them, and that the apple trees can fight back. They’ve actually been there all along, been able to do so all along, but I just refused to notice.

    I can’t wait to get back outside and start exercising my new eyes. Thank you for teaching me HOW to think, and not WHAT to think. It’s been an utterly refreshing experience all around.

    Tripp out.

  15. Thank you for your posts, both here and previously on your Archdruid site. I am not sure I am quite ready to embrace the gods that are all around us, though I do have the view that each creature, no matter how small, should have a chance to thrive. In my garden I do love the compost heap and the woodlice and worms that live there though I may occasionally selfishly disturb the pile (in summer) to uncover a shrew, a frog or even a grass snake.

    Your postings are an antidote to modern life where the news (of civilisation going through a catabolic collapse) is mostly too grim to watch.

  16. Fabulous two posts, John Michael!

    What you are saying is so essential. I can’t think of anything more important, actually.) As my mentor, Thomas Berry, often said, “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.” He went on to claim that no awareness was more foundational or more vital for our species to re-embrace if we hope to survive into the future.

    You actually do know at least one atheist scientific materialist (humanistic pagan) leader, because he told me he met you at a pagan gathering last year: Jon Cleland Host. Since Jon is a dear friend, I can confidently claim that he would embrace everything you say in these two posts. For your readers who might be interested, he blogs over at “Humanistic Paganism” (Tagline: “Paganism firmly rooted in the empirical world”.)

    Because I’ve been in the pulpit of close to 500 Unitarian Universalist churches, and often speak to other groups of so-called “Skeptics, Freethinkers, and Humanists” I personally know hundreds, if not thousands, of scientific materialists (many would self-identify as atheist but many others reject the atheist-theist dichotomy and identify as pantheist, panentheist, or some other term) who vehemently reject anthropocentism, wholeheartdly embrace ecocentrism, and who believe that our species is not likely to survive much longer without recovering a humble, honorable “I-You” relationship to the living world.

    My HuffPost blog from a few years ago, “God: Personification ≠ Person” was written mostly with this audience in mind.

    There is, in fact, a fairly large body of scientists and other scholars contributing to such fields as “Evolutionary Religious Studies” and “The Religious Studies Project” and “TVOL (This View of Life)”, virtually all of whom build on the work of Stewart Guthrie’s acclaimed 1994 book, “Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion”, as well as the work of David Sloan Wilson, Jonathan Haidt, Ara Norenzayan, and others.

    These authors are, I suggest, a bridge between your beautifully and powerfully expressed worldview and those of us who have been indoctrinated or enculturated into a more traditional, Western secular or religious worldview.

    In any event, keep up the great writing! As you know, Connie Barlow, my humanist, atheist, scientific materialist (former science writer, now full-time climate activist) wife and I have nothing but over-the-top praise and admiration for your work!

  17. This week and last week’s essay as well as the last 5th Wednesday post highlighted a question that has been rattling around in my head for quite some time, especially with the Samhain season passing last month. In this week’s essay you mentioned the way that ancestral beings, much like nature spirits, have a presence and can be perceived and interacted with during ritual, which is a fairly universal piece of human experience. In early human cultures religions built on ancestor worship are at least as prevalent as animistic religions centered on natural forces and most traditions I can think of that fall in the latter category also put a strong emphasis on the former. However, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, reincarnation is also an important piece of the human experience. Reconciling the two differing experiences of the dead has always seemed to me to be one of the more interesting challenges in my own spiritual reflections. If a long dead person’s individual consciousness is off in some new incarnate form with some completely new identity, they should hardly be able to show up as a regular visitor to the family ancestor shrine to take offerings, appear and dreams, and bestow wisdom, and yet there the dead reliably appear in thousands of religious traditions all around the world (even in most forms of Christianity that offer no theological room for such interpretations).

    Even more interesting, and perhaps slightly more on topic with this week’s post is the way that those same ancestral spirits tend to blend into the other kindreds… Many deities seem to distill elements of both particularly venerated ancestors and the spirits of local ecologies into one form and presence. The lore surrounding nature spirits is often similarly blended into the lore surrounding the dead, with a particular water spirit sharing a particular name because of someone who died there.

    Reflecting a bit further on this week’s essay, especially the metaphor of soil, I begin to think of an image of human morphology on all planes of being taking a form similar to a fungal mycelium with the individual incarnate human identities that we perceive ourselves as having an analogous form, if not in function, to the briefly lived fruiting bodies and mushrooms that spring up above the ground from time to time. This would mean that on some level of being, humans do blend into a mycelial network that interblends with other neighboring beings in a similar way to the blending of the roots of vascular plants and fungal mycelia into mycorrhizae in soil networks on the material plane. This model for human spiritual anatomy would account for both the presence of ancestral spirits, and the way the blend into the other kindreds while also leaving a door open for the process of new “fruiting bodies” springing up out of that same network through a process of reincarnation. Just some strange seed thoughts that these last two weeks started jostling loose. I’ll have to see where further meditative unpacking leads.

  18. Thank you, I love your posts and this one really resonates with me! I feel like I’m taking stumbling steps into a bright, amazing world, and I have some questions. I hope you and my fellow readers can help me along.

    1. Is there (could there be?) any limit to the number of planes? Do they exist in a fashion similar to the electromagnetic spectrum, where boundaries are somewhat arbitrarily based on who we are as beings? Or are they related but separate, like plates stacked in my cupboard?

    2. Your comment about “atheists” integrating these insights into their lives feels like it describes me. Right now, I feel like the Universe doesn’t want me deifying it any more that I want a microbe in my gut deifying me. But on reflection, perhaps things are called “gods” based on their characteristics and abilities, the same as rocks, plants, etc. are given those names as a broad grouping of similar ways of existing. It could be I am just hung up on what I think the verb “to deify” means. Again, perhaps forms of existence are like a spectrum?

    Thank you!

  19. This reminds me of the Einigen the Giant story where he carves the knowledge in the three rays of light onto three rowan staves only to have the people misunderstand and worship the staves as gods instead of learning from them. The physical staves then stand for the material plane and the knowledge carved on them represents the other three planes among many other things they also stand for.

    I wonder how old this myth is?

  20. Wonderful discussion. Very insightful.

    Question: How do you explain the efficacy of making material offerings to immaterial beings? What happens when the peanuts you offer to the local spirits get consumed instead by the squirrels?

    On a metaphysical level I’m sure there are many explanations (I know of some from Asian traditions), but I’d like to hear your view.

    All the best,

  21. Yes very interesting. One thing that fascinates me is to hear a proud atheist say something like, “I wanted something to happen so I threw my thoughts out to the universe”. Huh?

  22. Well. That was interesting, if a little stretching.
    I followed the link to your earlier essay.
    Then read the first seven essays on that older blog.
    I am reminded of things I used to think and feel. Before I walked into Mammon’s engine.
    Now, I am approaching the other end of my working life, and have fulfilled his main demands.
    I think it might serve me well to remember more of that.
    I will certainly be approaching the upcoming pruning of my apple tree in a rather different light.
    Thank you.

  23. I always thought it was a bit ironic that people who vehemently proclaim the existence of angels, the holy spirit, and the devil just as vehemently deny the existence of nature spirits.

  24. Hi John,
    I’ve been comparing this and the last essay with Dmitri’s “Shrinking the Technosphere.” It seems that Dmitri has been describing the encroaching Empire of the It and you’ve been reminding us of, if I may so style it, “The Shire of the Thou.” Since we are in fact Thous whatever the pretensions of the Technosphere, I wonder if the Empire of the It is just a way to make us unaware of our own energies so that they can be hijacked by others.

    Interestingly, David Chalmers makes a strong case for panpsychism by showing how material monism and substance dualism lead to contradiction. David has also made a strong case for property dualism; that is, consciousness is a new property (like electromagnetism was recognized to be by the late 19th century) rather than a manifestation of other properties (like temperature being a manifestation of molecular motion.) Combining panpsychism with property dualism makes me wonder if, on that basis, we can claim that consciousness has its own quantum field (like electrons, photons, etc.) that, like the other fields (if I understand Quantum Field Theory correctly) permeate all space but, under certain conditions, can be localized, or cause places like rooms or grottoes “magnetized” with the feelings of others. This is admittedly a different route to understanding versus having actual encounters with nature spirits, but perhaps an accessible one for some of us nonetheless.

    A consciousness that survives death (as usually conceived) also offers a way to address the dilemma of whether we’re in a simulated universe (the modern retelling of being a brain in a vat.) All of the universes are “simulated;” there is no preferred universe anymore than, per Einstein, there’s a preferred frame of reference. What is invariant is the awareness that can plug itself into (and, pace Rappaport, dare we say create?) any number of reality fields.

  25. Greg, exactly. I’ve had the same experience in many different contexts, and I think most people have as well; it’s inseparable from learning, once you get past the rote-drill level.

    Mac, you’re welcome and thank you!

    Drhooves, of course I don’t know you personally, but it’s been my repeated experience that people who insist that they’ve never experienced anything spiritual have a mistaken idea of what “anything spiritual” amounts to — like the people who insist that they don’t have mental imagery because it’s doesn’t look like a movie in Technicolor. (There are people who don’t experience mental imagery at all, but they’re fairly rare.) I’d encourage you to start paying attention to the “vibe,” the feeling you get from different places. Are there places that make you feel secure? Are there places that grate on your nerves? Pay attention to that. Whenever you go someplace, ask yourself, “What does this place feel like?” — and don’t instantly self-censor and criticize whatever comes to mind, as so many people have been taught to do. Let yourself notice what you feel, and you’ll find that it becomes easier and easier to perceive that dimension of the cosmos..and then you can move on to others.

    David, in terms of training the inner senses, follow the advice I’ve just given to Drhooves for starters. Beyond that — well, if you’re practicing any form of magical training, guess what? You’re already doing it.As far as the ways identities nest, it happens among human beings; your town has a personality which includes the personalities of its residents, for example. I really do have to do some posts on systems theory, don’t I?

    Doryman, if a deity is angry, of course you want to talk to it, find out why, and see if there’s something that will improve the situation — and yes, that used to be done with diseases all the time. (Read the beginning of the Iliad sometime — Agamemnon pisses off Apollo, who sends a plague, and the only way to stop the plague is to make things right with the god.)

    Matthias, I’ll have to go digging. The claim as I encountered it was that sea floor core samples show a heavy loss of topsoil through erosion right after the time that Pagan worship was finally prohibited throughout Greece, which was during the reign of Justinian — curiously enough, in the sixth century. (There was an earlier round at the end of the Mycenean period, which will have played a large role in the Mycenean collapse.) But I’ll see what I can find.

    Jbucks, if the basic thesis of magic is correct, the whole universe is alive. Stars are living beings, and so is the cosmos as a whole. As for art, it’s not either/or. it’s both/and, of course. Your cultural and personal preferences play a role, yes, but there’s also a very strong astral component to art — well, if it isn’t simply dog barf.

    Jez, agreed. The more people realize that, and get to work trying to wake up their numbed senses and develop their own abilities (instead of replacing them with mechanical gimmicks), the better off we all will be.

    Graham, you’re welcome and thank you. Birds are very smart indeed — whoever invented the term “birdbrain” was more of an idiot than any bird I’ve ever met — so yes, they’re very likely responding to you, because you’re responding to them as conscious, thinking beings, as indeed they are. Nature spirits in the city — that’s a more complex issue; there are certainly some, but they’re not necessarily ones you want to meet alone on a dark night!

    Wheels, divination is one of the classic ways to get into contact with the subtler aspects of the world; I’m glad to hear you’re taking it seriously and learning from the experience!

    CR, St. Francis of Assisi didn’t seem to have any trouble having conversations with birds, animals, wind, rain, and other fellow-creatures; I’m not sure why so many Christians won’t do the same thing!

    Boštjan, that’s a very good question. One of the issues with monotheism is that it’s pretty clear that different people are using the same name for very different beings; I know Christians, for example, who very clearly do worship a merciful and loving god, and I know Christians who worship a wrathful being that seems to spend most of its time hating people. Both groups call their object of worship “Jesus,” but their behavior is so different — “by their fruits ye shall know them,” Jesus himself said — that I find it very unlikely that they really do worship the same being. There are some groups of people who pretty clearly worship their churches — again, watch their behavior — so I think you’re at least partly right. There are others, though, that have a less self-referential focus.

    Longrow, that’s why I found my spiritual home in one of the many ecocentric spiritual traditions that are native to my own European-diaspora culture. Druidry is one of the indigenous religions of modern Anglo-American culture, you know!

    Steve, thank you.

    Tripp, delighted to hear it! As we used to say back in the day, ’tis an ill wind that blows no minds. 😉

    Alex, you don’t have to embrace them if you’re not ready for that. Simply treat what’s around you with respect, and the rest will follow at the appropriate time.

    Michael, thank you. The thing that makes me hold some of your perspectives at arm’s length is that it’s very easy for people raised in a scientific materialist worldview to slip insensibly back into it, all the while convinced that they’re rebelling against it. You speak of a bridge between my robust ecocentric polytheism and a more conventional view of the world; which direction did you anticipate people crossing that bridge? Me, I’m interested in persons rather than personifications, and fortunately the universe seems to be eager to meet me rather more than halfway; I don’t have to spend my time personifying things when there are so many other-than-human persons around…

    Eric, that’s one of those standard questions that comes up quite regularly. Have you noticed that in societies that practice ancestor worship, there’s very often a time limit for how long a specific named ancestor (who’s not the founder of the family or an important hero or heroine) gets individual reverence? And that after that, they become part of “the ancestors,” who get reverenced in a group? That’s a reflection of the time between death and rebirth. Reincarnation doesn’t happen instantly; there’s usually a period of many years before it’s time to incarnate again, and during that time a dead person on the inner planes can be contacted in the usual ways. Then there are those ancestors who have passed beyond incarnation, and can be contacted as a group — and those who achieved greatness of a kind that probably put them beyond incarnation, who can be contacted indefinitely. it really does all make sense; talk to an elderly Japanese person with traditional ideas if you want more about this — Japanese culture, like many other traditional cultures, combines reverence for ancestors with a belief in reincarnation, and can explain to you in very fine detail exactly how that works.

    Cburch, the four planes I mentioned are simply the four we can experience. Occult philosophy has it that there are many, many more — probably more than we can imagine. As for “deify,” it’s easy for people in a post-Christian world to get hung up on that, since there’s only one notion of divinity available in that culture, and it really doesn’t fit a lot of people’s religious experience at all well. May I offer a suggestion? Read mythologies from polytheist traditions — Greek myths, Norse myths, or what have you — and think about what it means to be a god or a goddess in that context. It really does help.

    Reloaded, the myth of Einigan first appears in the writings of Iolo Morganwg, which date from the late 18th century. I’ve shown in an article in the 2014 issue of Trilithon — you can get it here — that the myth of Einigan includes material that pretty much has to date from very archaic Indo-European sources, but whether the rowan staves were part of that is a question I was unable to answer.

    Jeffrey, if the spirit of the local grove is embodied in the grove, the squirrels are among her organs, in the same way that your hands are organs of the body that you indwell. Where’s the difficulty?

    Jill, good heavens. I didn’t know atheists did that. That’s funny!

    Pip61, just let the apple tree know what you’re doing and why, and you should get along fine.

  26. Helix, and it wasn’t that long ago that Christians were perfectly comfortable with the existence of nature spirits. CS Lewis’ book The Discarded Image, probably the best study of the medieval worldview ever written, includes a chapter on them.

    Squalembrato, Anthroposophy drew very heavily on older occult traditions, and has some very useful things to say. My studies of Steiner have focused on his book The Philosophy of Freedom and his studies of Goethean science, but he and his followers have a lot to say about a lot of useful things.

    Greg, the problem with the “brain in a vat” thesis, of course, is that the same logic used to show that the world is an illusion also shows that the brain and the vat are illusory, too! I’ll have to look at Chalmers’ arguments someday; they sound interesting.

  27. @Jeffrey Kotyk says:
    “Question: How do you explain the efficacy of making material offerings to immaterial beings? What happens when the peanuts you offer to the local spirits get consumed instead by the squirrels?”

    If the offering of peanuts was made with good heart, but the squirrels ate ’em, I would credit the local spirits with enough of a sense of, well, their locality to roll with it. And a sense of humor on top of that. Or maybe the squirrels ARE the the manifestation of the local spirits in charge of accepting peanut offerings, or on and on. I sure wouldn’t worry about it.

    It’s all in the intent and the connection you make, as far as I can tell.

  28. A very thought provoking essay. Still the part of me that is still wrapped in scientific materialism asks, ‘So what of it?’. What do we gain from having knowledge of these 3 other realms? Will tapping into the etheric body enable us to build a better light bulb? Can tapping into our emotional body help us to end wars and conflict? What good is it, and how can it be harnessed, controlled, and used? Or, is it all for nothing?

  29. @David, by the lake
    Re: hierarchies of spirits

    One of the factors in the Michael Teachings I’ve always had some trouble with is the idea of “hive souls.” That is, there is a “cat central” and a “dog central” and so forth across the entire animal and I presume plant kingdom, so Athena may very well have started out as the spirit involved with “olive tree central.” Individual souls then also associate with individual bodies. The associations are a lot more fluid than with humans: if a cat dies, its spirit can join with another cat in the household for a while. It won’t take over, but it’s there.

    @Michael Dowd
    Re: UU

    I’m trying to remember if you’ve ever been at First Unitarian in Albuquerque. My memory of visiting ministers is rather poor, unfortunately.

    @Eric Singletary
    Re: Ancestral Spirits and Reincarnation

    Here’s a place where simplistic versions of reincarnation fail, or at least lead to unworkable ideas.

    When someone sluffs off the mortal coil, ce is no longer as bound to physical plane time. Ce can spend as much “time” as ce wants as an ancestral spirit tending to cis family line, while also having other incarnations at the same time.

  30. Great post as always, John. One of the things that I have long lamented as a sad Catholic is that the Church, in its constant attempt to get with the times, has almost completely abandoned what few mystical traditions it had left. I find it particularly tragic given that the medieval Church knew that such efforts were doomed to fail. The literal translation of Zeitgeist connotes a demon and, as any folklorist will tell you, demons cannot be caught, contained or bargained with. This phenomenon is by no means limited to the Catholic Church. Most secular institutions have done their best to exorcise any thinking that takes place outside of the material plane. Ask any 1L student in an American law school today what exactly is meant by the phrase “Justice demands” (or its 20th century equivalent “Public Policy”) and you will likely be met with a contemptuous stare. Again, it’s all the more pathetic given that our intellects tell us we should know better.

    On a somewhat more optimistic note, one area where our thinking may be changing is in the field euphemistically called “disaster recovery.” I spent much of the last four years administering federal disaster funds in New York City where the initial response to Hurricane Sandy was the classic American, nothing we can’t do, attitude. Over the course of those four years almost everyone I encountered at both the administrative and victim level came to a tacit understanding that any attempts to achieve a full restoration would be in vain. While many responded to this insight with despair, a good many took a sober minded approach and will no-doubt transfer their knowledge to future generations in small but meaningful ways.

    There is a good chance that the phenomenon we call a hurricane will force our culture to change its thinking about the spirit realm. The word itself is derived from the Mayan, Huracen – the god of chaos and creation who, much like the Yehweh of Noah’s flood, destroyed one of the first iterations of mankind after they had angered the gods. Hurricanes (and cyclones in general) even display five of the seven emergent properties that biologists use to classify something as alive. They have a complex structure (spiral*), respond to stimuli from their environment (in that they follow warmer/wetter currents of air/water), maintain homeostasis, acquire and use energy, and grow. Fortunately they do not reproduce or, as far as I know, evolve**. But, all the same, they are spiritual entities who have a strong presence in the material world.

    * for another example of how the Japanese are much further along in their appreciation of the spirit realm, check out the late 90’s early 2000’s era Manga, Uzumaki. The nearest Western equivalent is probably Lovecraftian horror although the saga is really in a league of its own.
    ** These criteria, pulled from my old high school bio textbook from 2002 are a bit outdated. There is compelling evidence to suggest that the first lifeforms on Earth relied on RNA rather than DNA and that evolution via natural selection didn’t start for nearly a billion years after the first lifeforms came to exist. Good article on that process here:

  31. John,

    Perhaps now one of the things driving the Elon Musk crowd in their desire to colonize Mars is that they see it as a nice dead world without all these nasty nature spirits that are so annoying here. That would suggest that the current picture of Mars might be sexier to them than the old solar system Mars of fiction. Just a random, but amusing, thought.

  32. I’ve always believed that we humans have many capabilities that we don’t use. Either we weren’t taught to use them, or we were taught not to. As an analogy I remember seeing a report of a blind person who didn’t use a cane. He used echo location, like a bat. He made clicks with his mouth and was able to hear the echo and determine how far away things were (this doesn’t help so much for dropoffs). When the TV reporter commented about his amazing ability, he said that actually he could teach anybody to do it in a day or two, and had done so many times. He guessed that it was a common skill before artificial light. I’m not sure of that last part as artificial light is a pretty recent invention. So while skills like this are different than your other senses, it still indicates how we specialize in certain skills these days to the detriment of many others.

  33. @Matthias Gralle: In Greece, as in Eastern Europe in general, the so-called “conversion” to Christianity was a very slow and imperfect process. When you look at rural life, it was never really completed: people who called themselves “Christian” still had a very great mass of traditional practices (as well as beliefs) that were sharply at variance with the norms handed down by the institutional church and by the state. Under some emperors, of course, there was a great deal of large-scale violent repression of practices condemned by the official Church; under other emperors, there was hardly any. The depopulation of the Peleponese after the middle of the 6th century correlates rather well with the Emperor Justinian I’s very harsh, violent and far-reaching efforts to stamp out every last vestige of Pagan religious practices and beliefs anywhere in his empire, which entailed, among other things, cutting down groves sacred to Demeter.

  34. I understand. I think we may be interpreting the word “personification” differently. Perhaps the term “personalize” or something along the lines of “honor like you would any subject” is more apt.

    I agree with James Hillman when he says, “Loving is a way of knowing and for love to know, it must personify. Personifying is thus the heart’s mode of knowing. It is not a lesser, primitive way of apprehending, but a finer one. To enter myth we must personify. To personify carries us into myth.”
    The bridge I speak of is almost entirely One Way. I want you tens of millions of science-oriented people to fully and enthusiastically embrace an ecocentric I-Thou relationship to the living world. I want you to impact millions more people than you currently do and I suspect that if you were to read Stewart Guthrie’s “Faces in the Clouds” you might soften what (I currently judge as) an unnecessarily dismissive stance toward those for whom, if you dropped the superior tone of voice, you could profoundly influence.

    I have 15 years of experience that there are many, many evidence-oriented, western educated people that are ripe and ready for the kind of radical ecocentric, ecosophia message you offer. Stewart Guthrie and David Sloan Wilson, I suggest, offer some bridge language and concepts to help you help them fall in love with Life. That’s what I’d really like to see!

  35. JMG, when you mentioned the cutting of Demeter’s groves in Greece, is this a specific historical episode you are referring to? Could this be related to the Plague of Justinian (541 CE) as well as the prior extreme weather events of 535-536 CE which affected the entire hemisphere. It is also true that Justinian “shut down” the Platonic school in Athens which is (sometimes) regarded as the end of Antiquity — he did this by removing its state subsidies.

  36. @ Jez: Others of Frank Herbert’s works, not just _Dune_ and its sequels, have a great deal to offer along these same lines, some of which is rather hard for us moderns to digest due to ethical concerns. I am thinking in particular of his novels _The Dosadi Experiment_ and _Whipping Star_, which explore the insights and strengths a young organism can gain despite everything from being deliberately and systematically subject to unrelenting cruelty and abuse throughout its life. I have always thought that Herbert himself must have had such a childhood to have conceived of the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit. (It will take a strong stomach to get through either of those other novels I mention here. I have no intention of ever subjecting myself to them again, though I found them extremely instructive when I read them at the time when they were published.)

  37. @wheels1nmotion: I would like to read your essay on Séances, but the link seemed to be missing. Can you provide it again>

  38. Thank you, John. The town and resident example clarified the relationships for me quite nicely. As for my magical training, I understand what you’re saying. Much of the time, it doesn’t feel like I really know what I’m doing — more just muddling through — and I like understanding things. But that, too, is part of the training, I suppose.

  39. Mr. Greer, it was impossible to not notice the absence of the etheric plane in your post; you even went to the length of talking about the “four planes.” Since I’m unable to figure out why, I’m asking for your reason to do so.

  40. For whatever it may be worth, in Scandinavian folklore, ancestor spirits and nature spirits are not too sharply distinguished from one another. The household or farmstead spirit who is Danish is called a Nisse (and in Swedish a Tomte) watches out for the land of the farm, its crops and its domestic animals as well as the farmhouse. Yet he is also called the Haugebonde, which translates as “the farmer in the mound,” and if there is an ancient burial mound on tha farm, that is where he also lives. The presumption seems to be nowadays that the Haugebonde is the first ancestor who carved that farm out of the “wilderness” and was buried on it when he died. He is not, however, the spirit of the “wilderness” that was there before the farmstead was made centuries ago. So there may be domestic natire spirits as well as wild nature spirits.

  41. JMG,

    Thank you for yet another excellent essay. It’s not easy to distill points of the Pagan worldview into easily digestible knowledge for everyone else, and you do it so well.

    I came from a Christian background and converted to Paganism, so I spent a lot of time reinventing the wheel, and it took an embarassingly long time to realize that the Pagan gods are not the distant, diembodied figures that resemble the Christian god, but instead are embodiments of the natural forces themselves, as well as sentient beings with godly powers.

    I also have a story to share. When gardening, I would pull weeds (obviously). As I began to learn about the weeds, I would let those with medicinal properties or practical uses live (and harvest them later just like the veggies). I tend to weed species by species, pulling dandelions one day and clovers another, because I am notorious for pulling the vegetables I planted accidentally. One day, I was pulling a particular weed and it shouted into my mind “I have a use!” So I stopped pulling it. After some investigation I learned it was plaintain, which definitely has medicinal uses and I believe is an ingredient in Metamucil or some other similar product. Now, many of the weeds will try to tell me they have a purpose or a use, and so far, they’ve all been right (I do think they learned from the plaintains, though, it never happened before they spoke up). I’m more careful and selective about weeding now, but honestly, they can’t all live all the time, or my garden would be made entirely of creeping charlie.

    Jessi Thompson

  42. Nice follow-up to the last one!

    While I do not claim to be an expert, the “vibe” thing is something we all used to speak about very freely back several decades ago. Everything had a vibe, for good or ill, and people just stayed away from people, places and things with bad ones. I don’t think this has been lost, and view it as essential for any culture. However, it has been much suppressed and used to ridicule by those locked into a singular view of their reality. I think for the most part, many of those pushing the “technosphere” (Orlov lingo) are rooted in and determined to only have a singular view of the world.

    I cannot disavow things I feel – just walking the farm and meeting people obviates that possibility. I’ll go one further and say that I think divining the “vibe” people seem to put off is one of those things that serve as a defense mechanism against sociopaths and psychopaths. The repression and ridicule cast on those attuned to “vibes” may be some of the reason why sociopaths and psychopaths seem to have arisen at every turn. Then again, maybe it is just awareness and identification of their habits and predilections. But I get that vibe when I converse with one, and often see it born out by actions later.

    I get vibes and sense things at the farm and on the lake and always have. I watched my daughter get goose bumps last year when we went into a ravine where coyotes had eaten a calf the year before – she had no idea, and just said “this place feels creepy” and poof! Bones dead ahead…

  43. “It used to be very popular among students of comparative religion to take this equation and insist that it meant that Zeus was “nothing but” the sky, Demeter “nothing but” the soil, and so on. That’s not what the ancient Greeks had in mind, though. To them, Zeus was the sky as the body of a living, conscious entity.”

    I had a realization related to this last summer. I was thinking about the materialist claims that we’re nothing but our brains and that we don’t actually make our choices, the neurons/molecules/atoms that make up our brains do. It then occurred to me that these are actually contradictory claims; if we are our brains then saying that our brains make our decisions is logically the same as saying that we make our decisions.

    I realized then that the reductionism which is taken for granted by many adherents of modern “scientific” dogma is actually completely unfounded. That the “nothing but”s, “simply”s, “only”s and “just”s that get put into statements like “love is just a chemical reaction” are pulled out of thin air and applied based mostly on ideological considerations.

    If object A is a mass of object B’s then it follows that that mass of B’s are also A. This is basic logic, but for some reason many people have bought into the notion that this relationship is one-directional; that the bigger, more complex A doesn’t exist and is actually just the mass of smaller, simpler B’s. This is especially so when A is something that doesn’t fit neatly into their conception of the world, like pretty much everything related to the mind and consciousness.

  44. Hello JMG and community,

    As always, thank you for these thought-provoking essays! They have been mingling in my brain with some other things:

    My 15 month old this week discovered the moon and is now obsessed! Periodically throughout the day he cries out, “Muuh!” and points up

    Facebook is unveiling a new Messenger app for 6-12 year olds to use on their devices. Private, of course! The article used all the warm and fuzzy lingo about the joys of connectivity…

    Looking at the full moon the other night, with clouds scuttling over it, I felt such sadness that kids aren’t being encouraged to experience such beauty, what a loss. My resolve to try and keep my son’s awe of nature alive in this current culture is thus strengthened. These essays and the ensuing commentary are timely.

    Regarding offerings to local spirits/trees, we wish to give something back to an old local oak who churns out huge maitake mushrooms each fall (which we dry for winter). I’m new to such things. We live in Maine, how about some maple syrup? By the way, the maitakes this year appeared about 6 weeks earlier than they usually do.

    Have a good week everyone!

  45. JMG,

    Perhaps what follows is just a rephrasing of a question you answered some weeks back but here goes anyway:

    If we allow each micro-organism (and perhaps even each atom etc.) a degree of consciousness, and also allow the systems and ecosystems they are nested in a greater degree of consciousness, then this suggests a hierarchy of awareness. In your reply some weeks back you indicated that this idea of hierarchy did not have a home in more traditional worldviews.

    Perhaps a better term would be “nested” (like matryoshka dolls) rather than “hierarchical” consciousness.

    In any case, to some degree the notion of a system or ecosystem is arbitrary; these do not always have sharp boundaries as you indicated in this week’s essay. So one higher level consciousness may “bleed” into another.

    If we go back to the Lake that has been so generous to me (mostly through my fishing buddies); the physical manifestation of the Lake is the unique physical features of the water and shores plus all the physical life within it. This physical life certainly has consciousness in it own right. Nonetheless, a fish’s ability to respond to me is rather limited. I hope when I put one of the little ones back with a kiss, they get some sense of the intent, but I have no high hopes. I work with animals all the time. From long experience, some just aren’t the brightest sparks in the fire you know.

    But, when I appeal to or thank the deva of the Lake, I’m assuming a much higher level of functioning consciousness. And the Lake is nested within Gaia herself. I presume her awareness is larger still.

    Perhaps the basic problem with this line of thought is it could culminate in the “One”. If not, where does one decide to go no further?


  46. So, if I’m getting this right, this post is reflecting another aspect of the magical worldview you discussed in the post on reincarnation – that is, that the spiritual realm is primary, and the physical realm is a reflection of what’s happening there and in the intermediate levels.

    Nature spirits, angels, gods and goddesses, etc. are spiritual realities who either don’t have physical manifestations that we can physically sense, or represent spiritual realities at a scale bigger and more complex than an individual “thing” in the physical realm that’s easily grasped on a human scale (i.e. the spirit of an ecosystem, the west wind, a river, a mountain).

    So when showy milkweed volunteers in our yard, and we spread some of the seeds and plant butterfly food, and then a couple years later a monarch butterfly shows up where there hasn’t been one for years, it looks like a conversation started by the milkweed/butterfly to which we were attentive enough to reply in kind. Likewise, when we compost, feed the soil, allow the prairie grasses and plants to grow and bloom rather than mow and poison them, our yard hosts all manner of creatures who don’t visit our neighbors much. If I’m getting this right, these visits are physical manifestations of the spiritual reality of relating to our surroundings as if they have their own lives, purposes, and ways of doing things that deserve our respect; that is, treating them as neighbors who share our world rather than pests to be eradicated or tools we use to express our own will. And all of them are physical manifestations of a spiritual reality of whom we are part and with whom we relate, whether we choose to be aware of this or not. This essay and the last read like an opportunity to choose awareness after a concise and very elegant explanation.

    Am I picking up what you’re putting down?

    As an aside, to my mind there’s a lot here implied about astrology, but as you often say, this is an essay, not a book. Still, given the planes, scales, and worlds under discussion, it stands to reason that the physical planets orbiting the sun represent large spiritual realities that interact deeply with us Gaians, much the way different organs in the body interact with those 10% by weight microbes that are part of us. I’m imagining a microbial organ-chart reader saying, “Ah yes, you were mitosed in the sign of the spleen, with the waxing lung and the heart in the diastole…” and going on from there.

  47. Many thoughts…

    First. I was non, or really anti-religious for a long time, but I was never an atheist, because atheism seemed to me to be another authoritarian religion. Among my thoughts were the idea that, on one level, my body is in no way a solid object; thus many other things which don’t appear to be solid objects, but which are components of a single system, may be described as bodies and thus may be considered to have experience of the world, as I do. That’s basically what you’re saying here… But what’s strange is that I stopped thinking that way after taking up the practice of occultism.

    That idea was crystallized for me by a dream. In this dream the sea, enraged at human kind, had sent forth a warrior made of wind, water and lightning to destroy an American city. Another was coming, and we were waiting in fear. That was 2 months prior to Hurricane Katrina… which itself was followed by the more powerful (though less destructive) Hurricane Rita.

    Second thought. The Discarded Image is one of my favorite books, and this post provided an excuse to get it out… Lewis cites Milton on the Longaevi, or nature spirits–

    Like that Pygmean race
    Beyond the Idian Mount, or Faery Elves,
    Whose midnight Revels, by a Forest side
    Or Fountain some belated Peasant sees . . .

    And here I have a question. What is the difference between those nature spirits that are the consciousness of a particular place or natural force, and those that appear to be, if not independent of a particular place, to be nevertheless something other than its own mind or spirit? These are the sorts of beings you alluded to as having 3 bodies but not the fourth, but not being the spirits of dead humans. How do you distinguish them, and how do you tell them apart when you encounter them?

    Third thought, speaking of dead humans. This is slightly more complicated. I’ve been reading Jesus the Magician by Morton Smith, and he talks about how it was a common belief among Classical era magicians that the spirits of people who had died violently were particularly powerful and useful for magic. On a different note, I once listened to a long lecture series on spirits and possession by the Taoist teacher Liu Ming. He categorized nonhuman spirits according to the traditional Chinese five elements, and he also said that it was traditionally thought that humans sometimes became spirits of one of these five types after death. Not, mind, that all humans became spirits or that all spirits were the ghosts of dead humans, but only that sometimes humans could be admitted to their ranks. So humans who died suddenly or violently, in war or auto crashes and the like, could become fire spirits.

    These two idea combine make sense of two things… Lewis talks about how there was a debate in the Middle Ages about whether the Longaevi were an order of creation different from humans or whether they were the ghosts of dead humans. The answer, according to Ming, might be “both.” I’m also thinking about how Christians who suffer martyrdom– so, violent death– automatically become saints– spirits of the dead who one can call upon for help.

    It also occurs to me that, were one so inclined, one could arrange one’s death and the treatment of one’s body so as to join with or participate in the life of the nature spirits of a particular place. If one were so inclined.

  48. JMG,

    One thing I have noticed as I have become more perceptive of other modes of experience is that I find it amusing when others notice them too and are used to ignoring them and trying hard to continue to do so. For example, when people go into the room I do ritual, some get a puzzled look on their face, and can’t quite figure out why they feel different in that room.

    On the other hand it was really interesting when one night a friend’s wife who was at our home for the first time came strait out and asked if my wife or I had noticed a certain vibe in our house, or if there were ghosts or spirits we knew of here. When I came clean about being an occultist and what that meant and that yes she probably sensed spirits in my house, she was relieved and had a lot of questions and was delighted to be able to talk to someone about her perceptions.

    Finally, one of my all time favorites is when people see a tarot deck laying out in the house and I get a comment that goes something like this…”Oh I don’t believe in those tarot things or astrology at all.” Then after a short pause…”But hey could you do a reading for me? Just for fun?”

  49. As I mentioned last week, I just “act as if” the world and nature is enchanted, and full of spirits, and pay careful attention to the “vibe” I get in beautiful natural places. Seems to be a good start…

  50. Thank you very much for this essay. Your explanation of what people are trying to refer to when they talk about planes is the most lucid and clear I have ever seen. I have had trouble understanding these concepts, and now things are finally coming into focus.

    If I may, I have a follow up question about your discussions with David Spangler regarding Findhorn from last week. Since they apparently were successful in creating a genuine relationship with their local nature spirits, I am curious how exactly they went about it. Did they use a formal ritual system from one of the occult traditions? The impression I got was that they did not, and it was a more free form approach, involving a lot of trial-and-error.

    Any lessons learned would be of great interest, since I would like to open up those channels of communication with my own local nature spirits!

  51. Thanks so much, JMG, for making Wednesday my favorite day these many years. You, and so very many commenters, helped free me to talk with my ancestors, honor the gods and goddesses, and acknowledge and participate in a much, much richer world than I could have ever imagined. It’s been here all along. Hidden in plain sight.

  52. JMG,

    A bit of a follow on to my last question (if that’s OK):

    If we allow a tree to have its own awareness, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t and plenty of well documented reason why we would, we need not assume this consciousness is all that expansive.

    Pigs have personalities as do dogs and sheep and cats, but in all cases, just a for humans, this consciousness is bounded by the possibilities of the species. Dogs are still doggy and humans are still humany.

    Presumably trees are still treey, plants planty, herbs herby etc.. Its seems that size (or perhaps complexity) has something to do with it. A cat appears infinitely more aware than an amoeba. Even a dysfunctional human relative is probably no more worthwhile to communication with dead than alive.

    What I’m getting to is that there is little reason to assume a plant of itself, any more than a sheep, knows a great deal more than me do about the things that matter to me.

    On the other hand, it is commonly reported that people learn the properties of herbs and other plan medicines from the plants themselves. I have no reason not to believe these reports as they are so widespread in time and place to ignore out of hand.

    What I am thinking is that the communication is with the deva of the plant, not the plant itself (a needless distinction?). I’m assuming nature spirits, as in those entities that “govern” a species or collection of species, to be more aware and so some communication with them may be more fruitful.

    Again I come back to the notion of nested awareness being greater. Just an idea. I have no personal experience (that I am aware of) to base this on.

    Am I just blowing smoke? Should I be smoking some plants to get the experience? 😉

  53. Plato mentioned in one of his dialogues that Greece used to be much more fertile, but much of the soil had eroded away centuries before his time due to deforestation of the hillsides leaving much of the country barren and difficult to farm. He pointed out that the coastal waters around Greece drop off sharply so the eroded topsoil ended up at the bottom of the sea instead of gathering in river deltas and beaches.He also noted that this had a profound effect on the later evolution of Greek culture, including an early emphasis on seafaring, trade, urbanization and crops like olives that could grow in poor, semi-arid soils.

    So much for the idea that the ancients were less intelligent than we are or were ignorant when it came to scientific knowledge.

  54. I’m very much enjoying these posts, and your new blog project in general – thanks!

    I have what is sometimes called a highly sensitive temperament, linked to a highly sensitive physiology. So I have felt those “vibes” strongly all of my life, but didn’t know what they were for most of it. Working for many years in the corporate world, sensitivity was quite an inconvenience – where a certain kind of toughness and predictability were much preferred. As I stepped away from that world I’ve been able to explore sensitivity and intuitive insight more freely, and have stopped suppressing it. Or at least I suppress it less. It still scares me a bit, but mainly when I try to process it through my logical mind’s eye. If, when I am feeling a lot of energy in a room, or intensity with a person, or the vibrational chaos of places like airports, if I just breathe steadily through it I’m fine; but if I think about it too much I can feel an unsettling amount of anxiety, almost like my logical brain can’t handle it. I am generally more comfortable in the natural world than with large groups of people, but as you say the natural world is imbued with spirits working on their own wavelengths and priorities and they’re not always pleased to see me. So these are things I’m still coming to terms with. My wife, meanwhile, has evolved into quite a psychic person and is perfectly comfortable with it. Different strokes.

    How do Blake’s visions relate to psychic dimensions such as clairaudience, clairsentience and clairvoyance – are these different flavors of the second vision?

    Finally, that third vision – that ability to integrate knowledge or skills and then suddenly move to a higher or more complete level of knowing and performance, is indeed a wonderful thing. I feel it most clearly playing music instruments, where the logical mind essentially checks out. I think of that experience poetically as enthusiasm, or at least it seems always to be accompanied by enthusiasm.

  55. Esteemed mage and Druid, your writing this time surprised me, in a very good way. I halfway expected your discussion of Nature Spirits to at least partially involve “…some alien realm whose inhabitants leap through into our world, violating natural laws with impunity” (Ooh look, it’s Tinkerbell!) but you quite decisively stated that that is NOT what you are talking about, in a way that made my far-distant biological sciences training make me want to stand up and cheer. Hip hip hooray!

    Instead, your explanation is quite sturdily connected to biology, with its discoveries of the absolutely crucial roles played by bio-films and fungal mats. Now, if you look those things up on Wikipedia you’ll read mostly, especially in the case of bio-films, how those organismal assemblages mess things up. But the truth is, both bio-films and mycelial mats enable things to occur that otherwise would be impossible, from human digestion to soil fecundity to drought resistance in plants to breakdown/removal of toxins from the environment. And in both cases, the assemblages are using what can only be called learning, culture, and intelligence to accomplish their tasks.

    Here’s what I believe to be an excellent discussion on fungal mats and their role in the environment (long article):

    A great quote from the guy being interviewed in that article: “Whether nature and God are the same — which is my bet — may be open to debate, but I think there is more common ground between creationists and evolutionists than we think, so long as we recognize that the complexity of the universe exceeds our ability to understand it.”

    Obviously you’re talking about far more than bio-films and mycelial mats, but the fact that some findings of the biological sciences so robustly back up what you seem to be saying – that undifferentiated forms of life can be intelligent, responsive, purposeful, and quite mysterious to the uninitiated – fills my heart with joy. Thank you for your insights!

  56. @Tim Akey (from last week’s comments)

    If I may be allowed, JMG, to comment on Tim’s concerns from last week.

    I’ve had similar experiences with trust betrayed in spiritual teachings and so am very cautious to extend it too quickly.

    So I deliberately started with divination because, if set up well, it is so easy to test.

    Pick a system that allows for unambiguous responses to objectively verifiable events. The system needs to allow for a 50/50 chance of success to be easy to score results. Once I obtained a basic facility with the technique, I kept score. If there is ambiguity in the result, score it as a miss. This keeps you honest because, if the system works, the results will still show this even with some false negative scores.

    Do at least 100 divinations that have objective results that can be scored. Don’t worry about the results (its just an experiment so have fun) just do them and score each when the result come in. Do the analysis after 100 divinations or more.

    I stuck with mundane things that mattered to me, weather, illness, domestic animals, etc. Two standard deviations off the expected null hypothesis mean (for 100 divination this is 50 + 2 times SQRT(100)/2 so 60 positive results out of 100) means you are well into statistically significant territory. I expect your results will be way better than just the standard threshold of <5% (stat div of 1.65).

    At a certain point, the "this stuff really works" moment is reached. Then you have to ask yourself why. A reductionist materialistic worldview just cannot allow divination to work. There are alternative (and traditional) worldviews that do allow it to work.

    Basically you build trust by experience.

    Before long you will be believing the British royal family are all space reptiles. Nah, just joking … who doesn't already believe that 😉

    Hope this helps

  57. JMG, where do dreams fit into this fourfold schema, if I may ask? My feeling is that they operate largely on the astral plane, but I am curious about your thoughts. I consistently dream more vividly and memorably when sleeping out of doors, and I have begun to wonder if this is at least partly because I am surrounded by numerous beings projecting their own patterns onto the astral light which I receive/perceive while dreaming, which is difficult to do when cut off inside a house-box. These outdoor dreams are usually very compelling, sometimes disturbing or frightening, but far wilder and more alive than house-dreams. The only dreams of comparable intensity I’ve had indoors have been fever dreams, and those had a different, well, vibe, for lack of a better word.

  58. Another comment, actually a question–

    Given my previous note about the hurricanes as warriors of an enraged ocean, and your comments last week about natural disasters as nature spirits venting their wrath on humankind…

    And also bearing in mind that I have completed the work of the Bardic grade of the DODG, but have not yet initiated into that grade and won’t for another week or two or three–

    Would it be possible to enter into the Grove of Fire for the purpose of speaking with the spirits of the wildfires ravaging the area in which I live, and asking them what might appease them?

  59. Workdove, if all you want to do is build a better lightbulb, single vision is probably your best bet. If you want to live a life that doesn’t turn large areas of the planet into smoking ash, on the other hand…

    Christopher, I shake my head in bafflement at the way the Catholic church, at least here in America, has squandered two thousand years of tradition in a doomed-to-fail attempt to be “relevant.” I hope it can pull itself out of the power dive. Your point that the zeitgeist is a demonic power is, I think, worth contemplating!

    John B., that’s certainly my take on it. C.S. Lewis put similar notions into the mouths of his villains in That Hideous Strength, and not without reason.

    Dean, an excellent point! Human beings can do astonishing things if they bother to learn how — or they can sit on the couch staring at little jerky pictures on glass screens, and let their capacities turn into mush. The former seems a lot more interesting to me.

    Michael, that’s funny, in a bleak sort of way. I’ve noticed that when people accuse me of a “superior tone of voice” or the like, it’s generally when I express an opinion that contradicts the conventional wisdom of our time, and refuse to couch it in terms properly submissive to the believers in that conventional wisdom. (My favorite example along these lines is the outburst, which I’ve fielded repeatedly, “You think you’re right!” Why, yes, I do.)

    But the idea that I should make my opinions conform to the materialist orthodoxy of our time in order to make them more acceptable to the masses is, to my mind, a catastrophic mistake; You’ll notice that the materialist orthodoxy is never expected to compromise! Following that advice, plenty of thinkers, and plenty of movements, that might have accomplished something significant if they’d stuck to their guns watered their ideas down into irrelevance and, in many cases, turned into accomplices of the status quo. I’d cite the piteous state of the environmental movement these days as exhibit A here, though it’s far from alone.

    If others want to try dancing on that slippery slope of compromise with the status quo, I make no complaint; we each have our own paths to walk. My path leads elsewhere, though. Somebody has to make the case for what Theodore Roszak called the Old Gnosis, and I call by the simpler and even more offensive term magic, and to do it without compromise — to hand out the red meat for strong men and women, if you will, while others dispense the milk for babes. That is to say, here I stand; I can do no other.

    EasternRoman, Justinian didn’t just remove the state subsidies of the Platonic Academy. His edicts forcibly closed all remaining Pagan temples and other sacred places in the eastern empire, and prohibited Pagan worship under drastic legal penalties. That’s the historical event I had in mind.

    David, the muddling is unavoidable, because imposing an intellectual understanding on the process too early can get in the way. Keep going and things will become clear.

    Packshaud, the etheric plane isn’t really a separate plane. It’s the other half of the material plane, which is why etheric phenomena can so often be experienced with the physical senses. Of course you can also divide the planes in other ways; there’s also a fivefold, a sevenfold, an eightfold, and a tenfold division in magical writings. I simply used the fourfold here because it links so well to our modes of perception.

    Robert, that’s fascinating. In Brittany, all the stories that the Irish habitually tell about faeries are told about the dead; and in place of the king of the Sidhe, you get Ankou, the king of the dead. So there’s definitely some kind of link there!

    Jessi, that’s the kind of thing clairaudient gardeners have been dealing with for a very long time. You can always tell the ones you harvest, “Yes, and I’m going to put you to that use now.”

    Oilman, I learned to pay attention to vibes a good many years ago, and long ago lost track of the number of times they’ve steered me away from trouble and into unexpected good fortune. It’s a very useful way of sensing things.

    Valenzuela, excellent! You’ve just earned tonight’s gold star for a stellar use of logic to shred the pretensions of the pseudorational; thank you.

    Adam, thank you for this! I’m reminded of one of the repeated wry comments by my favorite H.P. Lovecraft blogger: “the local people are ignorant and superstitious. They are also right.”

  60. Ellen, the best thing to do might be to ask the tree, and then pay close attention to any odd coincidences, dreams, or sudden intrusive thoughts you may have. That’s usually how such beings make their wishes known.

    Dave, there may not be an upper end, or a lower end, but sooner or later in either direction we get to beings whose concerns do not overlap with ours. The traditional habit was to talk to such beings and see who answers.

    Steve M, yes, that’s basically what I’m saying. The old magical teachings, by the way, take it for granted that the planets are vast intelligent beings, and their interaction with our world has much more in common with a conversation than it does with blind forces.

    Steve T, these are very complex matters, and would take rather more than a single post to sort out. Here I’ll just say that you’re not particularly out of line with occult teachings.

    Dean, funny. Yes, I’ve had similar experiences.

    Shane, it’s a perfectly valid approach and I bet you get good results with it.

    Samurai_47, the people who were involved at Findhorn wrote extensively about their experiences, and far and away your best bet would be to chase down some of their books and read them. Paul Hawken’s The Magic of Findhorn might be a good start.

    Ottergirl, you’re welcome and thank you.

    Dave, of course it’s okay. Yes, what you’re describing corresponds fairly closely to the standard occult teaching on the subject. (The term “deva” is much used in occult traditions influenced by Theosophy for exactly the sort of next-level-up being in question.)

    Erik, Plato was of course quite correct. Greece was practically stripped down to bare rock in the aftermath of the Mycenean period, when agricultural practices poorly adapted to the land caused ghastly topsoil loss. Olive orchards, vineyards, and the systematic planting of sacred groves got things back to the point that it was possible to sustain a complex society again, but it took a long time and a lot of suffering. It’s a pity that the same awareness got brushed aside later.

    Mark, using the logical capacities of the mind alongside its intuitive capacities takes a lot of practice, and it also helps if the set of ideas about the world your logical mind is using is compatible with the intuitive side — that’s one of the reasons that occultists spend so much time soaking their minds in philosophy and symbolism! Before that becomes easy, yes, it can be a good idea to set the reasoning mind over to one side for a while, and then bring it back into play when it’s time to make sense of what’s happened.

    Blake doesn’t talk much about the magical side of his practices — his poems are symbolism, not instruction. Marsha Keith Schuchard has written some first-rate books about the magical side of things in Blake, though.

    Bryan, I’ve read extensively about biofilms and mycelial mats, among other things — I studied ecology in college and retain a lively interest in it — and no doubt that’s shaped my interpretation! I’m glad it communicated well to you.

    Jen, dreams are astral experiences, though they can touch on the mental plane — lucid dreams especially. You’re quite right that the presence of other beings makes for more vivid dreams! The very short form is that some of the things in your dreams are put their by your own mind, and some are put there by other, disembodied or differently embodied minds.

    Steve, yes, but be aware they may not be interested in talking. The powers of the elements have ample reason to be really thoroughly furious at our species just now…

  61. JMG, if the presence of other beings makes for more vivid dreams, could that be the reason why dreams can be so much more vivid during pregnancy?

    Also, I do wonder sometimes if the scientific materialists who think it’s plausible that there could be a multiverse are dimly sensing the different planes of existence but using a different name for that idea.

  62. Hello Mr. Greer, what you say about intellectus makes me think of my doerienc d while learning the Korean language. During my first few months of studying the language and living in South Korea, I had to put great effort into reading the Hangul alphabet in a similar fashion to how a young child learns English phonics. Then one random day I was standing on the corner waiting for the light to change to cross the street. I looked up at a sign as I waited and could read the words just as clearly as I can my native English. I’ve never had to put great effort into reading Hangul as far as the phonetic sounds go ever since that magical moment. My experiences of learning music theory high level math were similar as well.

    Although I am agnostic, I have had numerous interesting experiences during my life that have led me to believe something more is out there than what my current understanding of the world allows me to fully understand and articulate.

    I have also experienced where I knew something was off with my physical body, knew it to a point that disturbed me, and ultimately was correct despite the fact not all I share my concerns with believed. For instance, I KNEW my baby was going to be born early about halfway through my pregnancy despite the fact I was young, healthy, and having a low-risk, textbook-normal pregnancy. I instinctually knew I needed to eat more protein and did as my body suggested. My midwife scoffed at what I was saying and told me it was “first time mother worries.” Low and behold, I developed a strange, angry looking rash and two days later woke up in labor at 35 week gestation and gave birth just a couple hours later to a child who was healthy and large for her gestational age. My daughter is now 11 and never had any issue from her premature birth. Nor did I have any issues from that weird rash. It went away just as soon as my pregnancy was over.

    The notion that one might be able to “read” something into their hormone levels or health status that the “rational” mind does not seem at all “irrational” to me, nor does the idea that we can feel and experience similar feelings, energy, and vibes from the world around us. It seems far more outrageous that humans know everything there is to know about the world and universe already.

    As always, I enjoyed this week’s post immensely. Thank you for your writing.

  63. Is extra sensory perception like being able to read a card face down at all a thing? Does it like fall under the vibe category? If so is it trainable?

    On another topic I was thinking about how dead disembodied spirits wouldn’t have access to say eyes, like someone who is blind. But blind people can use their hands as eyes. So wouldn’t a spirit drifting around have to make similar substitutions? Only in place of hands for eyes it would be more like faculties of thought or whatever a spirit has. If being a physical being is like putting a glove on then it figures that some gloves might have holes…. or maybe all gloves have holes. Because there has to be a way into the glove to begin with.

  64. Oilman2, I agree that sensing “vibes” is a defensive mechanism. I’ve had times when I sensed that something was off about a person or a situation, and later it became clear what it was that wasn’t right. Even when I was an atheist, I paid attention to those feelings. That’s saved me from trouble on numerous occasions.

  65. Here’s a good example of treating nature as a thing:

    They want to release genetically modified male rats who will be able to sire mostly male offspring, with very few female offspring. The possible consequences are, frankly, horrifying.

    Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to anyone to go to an animal shelter, select the cats who are least likely to find homes, and deploy them to rat infested areas. That’s much safer than what these intellectual morons are proposing.

  66. @ Ellen,

    There is a very large, very old oak tree that my family regards as a family member (and they’re not even Pagan, they are Christian……. and they wonder why I converted heehee).

    When I bring it offerings, I usually just bring it a gallon of water, or I pick up acorns and bring them somewhere else, helping spread its seeds.

    Jessi Thompson

  67. Dear John Michael Greer,

    What a fascinating essay. I was looking forward to it all week. Thank you!

    A question. A book then, would exist on all four levels as well? And should the physical book disappear, it would still exist on the astral, mental, and spiritual planes? Assuming the answer is yes, then, is there a way it could disappear from the astral, mental or spiritual?

    PS As the author of a book on a metaphysical subject myself I have had the same experience, of people eager to tell me of experiences they have never told anyone else. I can understand that probably they are terrified of being ridiculed, so I have always been very careful to keep their confidence. But I can say that I have heard a number of amazing things from the most, so it would seem, unlikely people.

    Kind regards

  68. Mr. Greer, I will attempt to do the atheist route for you, starting from the science angle and arriving at nature spirits of a sort.

    The gaining insight where things just click is an application of pattern recognition. It’s what artificial intelligence researchers have been playing with for a few decades now, with some partial success. When you practice on an instrument, the patterns are being embedded in your brain until you don’t think about it anymore but just do it. When at that state, you start to assemble patterns of the patterns you leaned. Once those larger patters establish themselves, things just connect and seem obvious. You don’t seen separate things anymore, you see patterns of patterns of things. You feel it and see it in a whole different way.

    The same applies for feeling the vibes. You don’t see it, or hear it, or smell it. But somehow your brain recognizes a pattern in a combination of a lot of little subtle things from all senses that you don’t consciously perceive but is there nonetheless. You recognize it as ‘a vibe’ but will almost never be able to say what exactly makes up the vibe. It doesn’t make it any less real of course.

    Now I’ll tell you that religion has a function that nature has put into humans for a reason besides just being religious. Humans are terrible in long term view, especially multi-generation. But there are some things that the next generations should understand, like not cutting down too many trees or you have soil erosion and people die. It’s pretty hard to do a long term study and convince people, certainly several years BC. An approach that works, is by coding long term behavior into rituals, and link rituals to religion. You don’t stop soil erosion consciously, but you have sacred groves of Demeter that have the same result.

    I’m not trying to talk down on religion. In fact, you could see religions it as a living entities living in symbiosis with humans. They live in our minds and writing, multiply, mutate, cross-fertilize and can die. Bad religions with bad rituals let their host do things that destroy the support structures. The host will eventually die, and so does the religion. Good religions makes the host thrive and will outlast the other religions.

    In the same way you can wonder if a storm system is alive. It maintains a certain structure, in a dynamic balance using energy and material from its environment. Just like most living things. You can wonder if species and ecosystems are alive, mutating, adapting, reproducing. They are not alive as we are, but still they form a pattern recognizable as a living thing. Even evolution seems to be alive, to have a spirit, and even works as a system that leans, collects knowledge, builds in fail-safes and backups (the more we learn, the more we see those nifty things). It just thinks on geological timescales.

  69. I have to agree with other commenters here: I have read most everything you posted on the net, and I find this is indeed one of the most fabulous of your essays. I never commented before, so allow me to just express my thankfullness for your work because appart from my father I think nobody refined (and usefully broke some of) my concepts of the world more than you did.

    I’d like to comment on just one bit of what you wrote because that was something that hit close to home for me, giving me a different perspective on something I know well, but that I used to interpret in a different way: The modes of experience, particularly the second and third (the fourth I may or may not have exerienced for moments, but Im not sure).

    For the past 27 years I’ve been working the nightshifts at a psychiatric ward, and my very most important instrument to help me do good work in the interest of my patients (and in my own, cause I don’t want to be attacked) is my perception. What you describe as the second mode, I think, is exactly what I am relying on every night: I take care of twenty patients, and it is impossible to do conscious analysis of each of them to assess their current state. What I do instead is: I walk over the ward a couple of times, say Hi to all, and just absorb the „vibes“ of the single patients and of the ward in total (which I think is the pattern of interactions of all of them). Just as you said, this does not work without the occasional error, but by and large it is working fairly well: I seem to „feel“ bad vibes and I’m able to communicate with patients in a problematic state before something gets out of control in a bad way. One small bit of the usefullness of this mode of perception is feeling how close I can get, physically, to someone in an agitated mood: sometimes you can touch someone on the shoulder, and it does good, it can break tension in a moment, and sometimes they need a yard of space around their bodies that nobody enters. This mode of perception that has nothing to do with any kind of conscious thinking, but is really, as you say, mostly like seeing, or hearing, has served me well: nothing really bad ever happened to my patients during my shifts, and nobody ever tried to hurt me.

    The third mode, as you describe it, also very much reminds me of work experiences. Psychoanalysis does not play any role anymore in psychiatry, but I was reading a lot of Freud’s work ages ago, and while the generations after him turned psychoanalysis into a suffocating dogma and basically destroyed it this way, there are some extremly useful fundamental insights there, as I find especially the description of modes of denial and defense. When I started to work at psychiatry I was trying to test what I read by my experiences, somehow fuse theory and practice, and now, for many years, not just at work but in all human contacts I think I can perceive something like rationalization in the same direct, unquestionable, totally non-analytic way I can perceive a flatulence.

    (Im not a native english speaker, etc, etc.)

  70. After last week’s post, I started thinking about my own garden in more interactive terms than previously. Today I told a friend about a particular part of the garden, “Look at these weeds. This spot wants to grow things.” The idea of soil-as-living-being fits nicely with the permaculture teaching that in order to improve your garden, you first improve your soil and provide the little beasties in it with the things that they want.

  71. The latest findings of Huygens probe show that Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, has eerily similar weather features and patterns to Earth, with methane playing the role of water. Assuming there’s no organic life out there, could it be that the local natural phenomena are embodiments of living, conscious entities?
    And if so, could those entities be in some sort of contact with “terran” similar entities?

  72. Thank you for this essay.

    As a child and teen, I routinely felt something I would call “Romanticism” — a feeling that was evoked mostly by the natural world, but removed from the material world in some way. Maybe it was because I was reading a lot of fairy tales, or maybe there was something more to it. Either way, I can’t feel it any more, and I yearn for it. The only thing that comes close is the feeling of being lost in some music I listen to.

    I have a question about your essay, though. You seem to be saying that nature spirits have a sort of representation on all four planes. And you state that humans will exist in all four planes from birth until death. Traditional lore and even modern myths of UFOs and the like have many stories about people being taken out of the normal order of space and time, like a man being lost in elfland for many years (a few weeks to him) or people who step into fairy dances being lost to the world, or various heroes visiting the underworld.
    Do you think these stories describe experiences where, to a scientific-minded outside observer, the person doing the traveling does not leave the usual flow of space and time at all, or do you think that there is a realm that is accessible to living humans, but is not a part of the regular material world?

    Some form of elfland that a person might stumble into if they’re not careful has been a central part of my worldview for as long as I can remember, and I’d just like to know if your perspective permits for such a place as well.

  73. I’ve read a lot of descriptions of the nature of Fourth Dimensional reality on the Internet, but beyond the description of the Lower, Middle, and Higher Astral Planes (to oversimplify it a bit, the spiritual shadow of our material world), most of the descriptions I’ve read come off as gibberish. This post, I believe, helped me to construct a more accurate map of Fourth Dimensional reality (and without this reality, our Third Dimensional reality would be unable to exist). Above the Spiritual Plane, I would add that there is something called the Causal Plane, and I think that is where the Fourth Dimensional reality interfaces with the Fifth Dimensional reality. I theorize that it is usually the threshold into the Fifth Dimension that one crosses when one remains in the “hereafter”, as opposed to returning to their bodies on the material plane, in near-death experiences. I also get the impression, however, that some people who have passed from the material plane hash out whatever issues might be weighing them down on the various Fourth Dimensional subplanes you have described. (Hopefully the Lower Astral Plane isn’t one them. That place is nasty!)

  74. Thank you John, for all the work you have done. Reading your tale feels like coming home at the end of a very long journey.

  75. Workdove,

    Oh, merciful heavens. If more people could contact the mystical plane, there would be no wars.

  76. All this reminds me of something else. I do a lot of hiking, it’s one of my main hobbies and there is a lot of it near me. There is one place in particular that many people have described as “spooky.” Most cannot give a reason for why they think it is spooky (one person said it is due to how the trees are spaced), but many people have independently said the same thing. Personally, I find nothing spooky about it. But so many people have said so that there must be something about it, but it remains a mystery.

  77. Housewife, good question. It seems reasonable that having another soul so close to you would do that — and of course the whole process of pregnancy presupposes an openness to the inner side of things, so that the other soul in question can enter in and take on a new material body. As for the “multiverse,” yep — it usually happens by way of science fiction, which has long made a specialty of taking occult concepts, splashing them with a layer of paint, and claiming them as future science.

    Daisy, thank you for two good stories relevant to the post! Yes, exactly.

    Austin, attempts to train extrasensory perception have had very mixed results; occult traditions generally argue that it’s a bad idea to focus on that rather than a more general (and more balanced) program of personal and spiritual development, as people can run off the rails very easily when they go chasing after “psychic powers”! As for the experiences of the dead, I mentioned that astral perceptions often take a parasensory form (“seeing things” and the like); by all accounts that’s how dead people experience things.

    Housewife, I ain’t arguing. And it’s not as though they know for a fact what’s going to happen to their genetic modifications five or ten or fifty generations further on…

    Millicently, yes, if a thing exists on the material plane, it exists on the other planes as well; the creative influx comes from the spiritual plane and descends plane by plane into matter. Since each plane has a different relationship to time, it’s complex to try to talk about things coming into being and passing away anywhere but the material plane, which is the plane where we experience linear time. The astral plane has the fluid time-sense of dream; on the mental plane, time is experienced as a dimension, so you can see the past, present, and future at once (usually just in glimpses, while you’re in a material body); and the nature of time on the spiritual plane is, like everything else on that plane, really hard to talk about.

    JC, that is to say, you’ve come up with a mental model that allows you to shoehorn these human experiences into the narrow confines of single vision. I don’t find that a useful habit, but if it pleases you, by all means.

    Heinrich, you may not be a native English speaker but your handling of the language is better than many native English speakers I deal with. As to “vibes” — yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, and as you’ve pointed out, it’s extremely useful in the most practical sort of way. Martial artists do the same thing, if they’re any good; the t’ai chi exercise called “pushing hands,” for example, is a way of training the sensitivity to “vibe” so that you can react to a punch or a kick before you have the chance to see it coming.

    Darren, not surprising at all. I bet those who talk to Huey get better waves to ride, too.

    Kfish, exactly. Start treating your compost bin as an altar to the garden spirit, and make each deposit of organic material in it an offering, and watch what happens!

    Stefan, in both cases, that would seem very likely indeed.

    Konrat, the world is a complicated place, and I see no reason to dismiss out of hand the possibility that there may be some very strange phenomena out there, including the ones you’ve mentioned. With regard to elfland and its equivalents, I’m still struck by the comment SF writer Ursula Le Guin made many years ago, that legends about visits there written many centuries ago routinely describe relativistic time dilation — you go to elfland for a day and a night, say, and come back to find that ten years have passed. That suggests to me that there may in fact be something very odd going on here…

    Mister N., as noted above, there are many different ways to talk about the planes, and the language of dimensions you’re using is certainly one of them. The lower astral, though — that’s something we talk about in occultism, too, and I should probably do a post about that someday.

    Stefania, you’re welcome and thank you!

    Dean, when you next go past the spooky place, clear your mind and just try to feel what the place is like. Don’t worry about descriptive terms such as “spooky,” just pay attention to how you feel, and how your feelings change as you approach it and move away from it. See what you experience!

  78. @JMG and Robert Mathiessen:
    I have read up a bit and see that Justinian indeed stepped up the persecution of Pagans. Unfortunately, what I have found only refers to temples (mostly outside Greece) and their priests, not to groves. I don’t in the least dispute that the groves might have been cut down at that time, but I would be grateful for any further references for reading. Likewise, I don’t see any reason to dispute that there would have been erosion at that time, but (as I told JMG above), the sources about topsoil erosion in Greece that I have found refer to earlier events, not to Late Antiquity.

    Well, all of this is not meant to distract from the other points made in the essay, which are marvellously clear.

  79. Exactly, JMG, the ‘Midas Civilisation.’

    The modern Midas would say how lovely it is to open a bank statement and look at ‘all those zeros.’

    Good luck eating them, they only feed the ego.

  80. This talk of natural spirits has got me to thinking on what spirit/s have shaped the rise of our current age (Industrial revolution).

    From what I get, there are two spirits that formed an alliance to get to this stage. One being Industry (but I think I’ll call it In-Destroy), mainly a force that is driven by a desire to consume materials and expel waste (not interested in capital accumulation, or conservation, which are against it’s natural tendencies). Teamed up with Technologic, which is an entity driven by an curiosity to control or explore what is possible on the material world.

    Technologic in this scenario needs to be separated from Industry, as In-destroy can’t be redeemed (its nature is to consume).

  81. Dear JMG;
    I am a long-time reader and first-time responder. Since I was a young teenager I have had a propensity toward mystical experience, which I define as the perception of subtler levels of the relative world (perhaps corresponding to Blakes 2nd, 3rd and 4th modes of perception or experience ). These experiences have occurred spontaneously and apparently randomly and they have been part of my journey throughout my lifetime (I am in my early 60’s). For several decades I practiced formal spiritual techniques and this seemed to enhance and quicken this propensity. I have had subtler perception of the nature world (that is what we might call animate living beings (nature spirits) as well as subtler perception of what are generally thought of (from the convention scientific materialist point of view) as inanimate objects, for example, chairs, tables, cars, etc. Because all is Life, what we might refer to as inanimate objects also are alive and have a very rudimentary, elementary form and personality. At times it was as though I was living in an animated Disney movie in which the chairs, cups, silverware, etc. were all dancing and singing. The first time I noticed this in automobiles I had to go hide under my bed for a while. All is not light and airy. Overtime I have acclimated myself to this view of the world around me. Needless to say, although I have obtained quite a good education and am fairly functional in this culture, it has been difficult to be here. (it at times can seem and feel like a death camp here). Anyway, thank you for sharing and clearly articulating subject matter that is rarely if ever highlighted in our conventional culture. Thanks for all that you do.

  82. .JMG et al
    re: Greek Dark Age (previous to classical period), and a soil erosion pulse into the Med and subsequent Justinian similar pulse. I had hoped to find details and save you time, but archaeologists seem seem to have made the trail complex to follow. Bintliff 2000 looked as though he had the gist, but it turns out his was not the last word. However, Scripps Institute has set out this year to get some definitive marine data. (interesting also on current losses in the ecological system)

    Phil H

  83. This is brilliant! Thank you so much, JMG. It makes the whole idea of ancient nature religions and mythology finally make sense to me, with real clarity, in a way nothing and no one else has……you might say I had an experience of “understanding” while I was reading this. And think what we have lost……no wonder the modern industrial world seems so flat. We are missing the depth of wisdom of all these other forces and beings, because we simply refuse to acknowledge that they are there. It’s insanity, really. I think this post truly sets forth what is at the basis of “ecosophia”.

  84. @Robert Mathiesen & JMG, the depopulation of Greece was due to the plague in 541 CE which was comparable in impact to the infamous Black Death of the 14th (rather than mass purges of paganism). Furthermore, towards the end of Justinian’s reign there were Slavic invasions across the Balkans that continued over the next two centuries. As for ecological impact, two earlier volcanic eruptions likely caused a cooling-off climatic period. I’m sorry if I seem to be minimizing the impact of the persecution of paganism — that’s not my intent here.

    Consider that the central state persecuted Christians for three centuries and it did not manage to close down all places of worship — why did they succeed shuttering all pagan places of worship in this case? In Egypt, Christianity displaced thousands of years of ancestral worship almost overnight. I suspect it did not happen because Justinian decreed so in a law-book. In fact, Justinian’s grand plan was to unify Christianity and his decreeing and cajoling of a standardized Christian doctrine didn’t even work. Heresies abounded during his time and continued to do so centuries afterwards.

  85. May I share another anecdote?

    It was about 2 years ago, I was riding a bus to my job, sitting in the very rear. Then I noticed there was something odd with a middle aged woman that was standing in front of me that shouldn’t. I got a very distinctive sense that she was using her body to block the view from the rest of the passengers.

    I then noticed the man sitting next to me: short, thin, shabby. Younger than the woman but probably too old to be her son..I also got the sense that he was about to pull a weapon on me, ivory handle… probably a knife but might be a gun. In that moment, I got a wordless feeling that can maybe be translated as “I won’t go down without a fight”, or perhaps “I refuse to be a victim”. I tensed and got ready to stampede over the woman and into the middle of the bus, where the guy’s agility would be hampered by the seats and my longer reach and larger size would be an advantage, my backpack already in position to be used as an improvised shield.

    What happened next, is that the woman staggered without the bus doing any brusque movement. She looked afraid, backed off a couple of steps and climbed down on that very stop. The guy climbed down later, visibly irritated.

    Is this narrative possible, or did I just scared to death an innocent lady?

  86. This complemented well with my in-depth study of/revisit to the Tree of Life on the day before your post. 🙂

    Let’s make nature personal again.

    Do you think we have a good grasp of what nature needs from us and we just need to find better ways as humans to address that? Such ways being working in those 4 planes, reconnecting with nature on a level our culture removed from us, and compromising in spheres of public policy, social expectations and design, and personal habits?

    – RMK

  87. Re Darren, Huey and surfing I remember my mother when I was a child saying, “Send her down, Huey” when it was raining fairly hard.

  88. I am so glad I have gotten back to reading your posts. It feels like ‘coming home.’ I have not studied any particular system or practice extensively although I have been exposed to many. I practice Buddhist meditation off and on and have a back ground in life sciences. I learned about ecology and ‘systems’ at college back in the early to mid 70’s and have proceeded to keep up by reading. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in an art community full of folk music and folk tales, song writing, science fiction, art, psychology, poetry, dance, the occult, and hand crafts like pottery, weaving, metal and leather work, etc. Children were often taken out to the woods, lakes, fields to learn about ‘nature’, observe what was there and look for tadpoles, frogs, birds, fish, larger animals, bugs and lizards.

    The adults I was around tended to ‘question authority’ and didn’t expect anything different from the children. There were adults around me who believed in nature spirits or at least encouraged me to believe as a child. I was told fairy-tales from many different cultures There was a family friend from Scotland who convinced me that there are ‘little people.’ No one told me not to believe in these spirits or in vibes, or other kinds of knowing. There were also books on various occult subjects or about various teachers in such subjects.

    My father ended up practicing Zen meditation and was fascinated with the far fringes of the new physics. As a young adult I shared books and discussion about many varied subjects with him and siblings and friends. After all, these were the mid to late 60’s and 70’s. The ‘hippy’ culture explored all kinds of new and ‘far out’ ideas. I was never confused by all the information. I have a good sixth sense or intuition about what is relevant, honest and authentic.

    I also liked and studied science. For some reason though, I did not find it hard to appreciate science while having some feeling and understanding of other kinds of knowledge. After all, some of the newest science seemed to verify other, less accepted concepts about time and existence etc. I have come to see that there is a great deal happening in the universe that many or most people are not aware of. We can develop awareness and knowledge in many ways if we chose to by practice and study. I find my study of other, older cultures help, including religions. I read about evolution, myths, anthropology, early humans, pre-humans, animals behavior, permaculture and theories in biology/evolution. I even decided I needed to learn about Economics.

    The only real problem I ever had and continue to have is not really fitting in anywhere. John Michael, you have a lovely group of people following you and I feel very comfortable here. I am also happy to read that so many people desire to understand what you are teaching and so many are beginning to understand how we as human creatures have gotten to the point of destroying so much of the life on our planet and probably the planetary systems that are keeping us all alive. I do tend to think that our time here as a species is coming to an end. At the very least ‘materialist orthodoxy’ must end immediately.

    The living creatures in my small yard/garden in a small mixed use neighborhood in a city center, aside from growing in number, are becoming more and more alive, sentient and interactive as they become more numerous. Early this summer I was kissed/touched on my cheek by a mosquito! I felt it was purposeful, and was not to bite me. It immediately became a beloved ‘being.’ Other bugs seem to acknowledge my presence now along with spiders, birds, squirrels, snails, earth worms, possums, garden snakes, and some new lizards that are flourishing in my yard. I find it difficult to kill anything and try to ‘ask permission.’ I too find it hard to pull weeds. I always did talk to plants. The huge love I feel for these living beings is almost too much to bear and I find I try to distract myself with indoor projects because the accompanying grief I experience with the love is overwhelming. Still, these conversations on your blog help somehow. Thanks.

  89. I’ve had plenty of experiences such as those you’ve described. I was always puzzled as a child why everyone was so horrified about them. Sometimes they scared me, when I was young, because no one was around to explain them. But I read, and lived, and learned to respect and appreciate them.

    One of my favorites came during a raging thunderstorm in a cabin in the backwoods of Ohio’s Appalachia foothills. We lived near the top of a hill with forest on 3 sides and an opening to fields and a pond below us. I love storms, but in Ohio the pressure shift could be so dramatic that I found myself becoming VERY drowsy despite all the flashing lights and loud thunder. The air smelled so wonderful that I sat in front of an open window and just started breathing deeply to take it in.

    I fell into a very light sleep/very deep trance doing so– and I had a most amazing, ultra-reality, full-senses, “dream”. In this place, the storm was a dragon. I was in a tent outside, and the dragon- having felt my presence, was spitting water at the sides and top of the tent. It seemed to want my attention.

    So I went outside (in the mind-state, I was inside by the window physically) to look more closely. I heard this beast breathing and was astonished to see a European-style dragon with horns, scales, wings, of a yellow-orange-copper color and just buzzing with electricity. It had deep green snake eyes and when I looked at his head– he (definitely male!) looked into my eyes! It was an astonishing few moments!

    I could FEEL, to the depths of my soul, that this beast, only the size of a school bus in my vision, was also the massive monstrous storm that was miles wide and touching heaven at the same time as he blew air and water through the air and touched the earth with electrical charges. He was full of energy (ha!) and fierceness, though not rage. He seemed to be FIXING something and emoting power and movement. It is hard to describe– but such a profound understanding was deeply humbling to me. I realized that “dragons were REAL” and where the whole concept of them came from!

    I was a little scared– he could be dangerous, this individual dragon! He beat his wings and air rushed by me. I saw this copper-colored dragon had a peculiar purple aura as well. He wanted me to come outside! SHOW! SHOW!

    I ‘woke’ from my dream/trance, feeling very strange indeed! But the order to come outside was strong inside me. I could still feel the dragon’s presence in the storm– he WAS the storm! I felt a personal connection now even more powerfully than before and my sleepiness was gone. I went outside, but stayed under the eves and looked around, lightning was flashing, but I knew I was safe (still not wandering out into the open because– that dragon could change his mind about me!)

    And I was looking at the top of a treeline and I saw St. Elmos Fire touching the top of an oak– just the oak, no other trees around it! It looked like the deep blue-purple aura of the Copper Dragon. It was only there for a couple of seconds, if that. But so beautiful! I knew that was what the dragon wanted to show. Just like that I made the connection of how all the colors of lightning I’ve seen were the colors of the dragons that produced them– red, copper, yellow, green, lavender, teal, on and on— and all thunderstorms were the physical bodies of the dragons– whose ‘other’ body was the classic dragon shape. THAT was an experience I’ve always loved to the depths of my being!

    (Notice how “IT” became “HE” after that experience? Goes with everything you’re saying here.)

  90. Great post.
    It immediately struck me that the ultimate sin of a scientific rationalist perspective is anthropomorphism. Possibly because once you switch from the accepted mechanistic metaphors to human metaphors you start experiencing the aliveness and the person-ness of those supposedly dead things.
    Gregory Bateson’s unsuccessful attempt to re-create a ethos of reverence around the natural world was actually quite useful to me in making a transition from a materialist world view to a deeper understanding. When I read his stuff in the early 80’s I thought ‘Okay, great. If the river is sacred we won’t dump pollutants into it. Good plan’.
    Then I started imagining and experimenting with how I would interact with a sacred living world and was amazed by the results. As you mentioned above the nature spirits were more than ready to meet me half way. In a few of those early experiences it seemed as if they were quite as surprised that I recognized them as I was to find them real and responsive.

  91. Apologies – just realised I put this comment onto the wrong post. Of course it belongs to this one.

    This is enormously helpful:

    “The world of spirits, as it’s understood by occult philosophy, isn’t some alien realm whose inhabitants leap through into our world, violating natural laws with impunity; the world of spirits is the inner side of the world we experience with our senses.”

    You are correct that words like SUPERnatural, and PARAnormal, set us up to expect spiritual experiences to be like visitations from an “alien realm”, rather than like getting to know what actually is all around us, perceived with senses we have, but AS it experiences itself (its “inner side”), rather than as we perceive its “surface” from its outside.

    Now, although I do prefer to act AS IF the world is full of intelligences and purposes other than my own, I sympathise with many who have expressed a suspicion they may be lacking in a particular sense organ, because they have failed to encounter such intelligences, Other than the two encounters I have previously described here, one related to a death, and one to an imminent birth, I would not have said I have had such experiences, even in my garden.

    However this post has made me consider one particular skill I have trained in myself over the course of many years, which other people find remarkable. I keep saying there’s nothing mystical about it, just paying attention. This is the ability to locate an acupuncture point by feel. I think some people picture me feeling something they don’t actually conceive of as part of their body, something “alien”. To me it is just a way the landscape lies, the way it feels, the way your finger stops just “here” when you run it along the pathway of a channel. I cannot describe it too well in words, but I *could* teach it to someone who was standing beside me and willing to try their hands.

    I suppose in this way (and also the “conversation” I hold with the selected point during the needle insertion time, which always begins with a request for permission, which incidentally is not always granted) I have become specialised in one particular way to access the “inner side of the world we experience with our senses”, and by paying attention I could learn other ways and means.

  92. A few months ago I was reading online about mast years (can’t find the article now) when trees produce an overabundance of nuts. The article said it can happen over large geographic areas (mulitple valleys separated by hills or ridges) simultaneously, and can sometimes include more than one species of nut-producing tree.
    How this happens is mysterious, but the article suggested there may be some “extrasensory” method of communication between separate populations of trees that enables them to coordinate their nut production, maybe via the air in wind-pollinated species, or even via the soil somehow but I forget the details if any were mentioned.
    Does anyone know more about this?

  93. I am reminded of something I witnessed my cousin do, years ago, when she was about three. Displeased with the response she received after some demand or another, she proceeded to shut her eyes. If she couldn’t see us, we weren’t there and the whole situation didn’t exist.

    Amusing, when a toddler does it, sad when adults, or a collective society does it. But that’s kinda the situation we are in, culturally. We “children” were taught that an appropriate response to life was to stick our fingers in our ears, squinch our eyes up and sing loudly, “lalalala! I sense nothing, so nothing is there!” Truly, upon attempting to undo the sensory shutdown we’ve been expected to maintain, we might find ourselves alone in an empty room, having chased all others from the vicinity with our stubbornness and bad singing. But also possible, if other beings sense our newfound availability to be engaged, is increased opportunity to relate.

    How about another poem? This one has less regular meter and rhyme, and is perhaps not as easy to memorize, but the sentiment is nice and so it’s joined my small repertoire:

    Everything is Waiting for You

    Your great mistake is to act the drama
    as if you were alone. As if life
    were a progressive and cunning crime
    with no witness to the tiny hidden
    transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
    the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
    even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
    the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
    out your solo voice. You must note
    the way the soap dish enables you,
    or the window latch grants you freedom.
    Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
    The stairs are your mentor of things
    to come, the doors have always been there
    to frighten you and invite you,
    and the tiny speaker in the phone
    is your dream-ladder to divinity.

    Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
    the conversation. The kettle is singing
    even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
    have left their arrogant aloofness and
    seen the good in you at last. All the birds
    and creatures of the world are unutterably
    themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

    –David Whyte

  94. Thanks for the link, what a great JMG bonus!

    I have Barddas on my to-read list. I have always been put off, so far, by all the books emphasizing that Iolo was a forger. As if that makes all his work worthless. It may have been (largely) forged, but that was no doubt to get it read. If he’d come straight out and said “Hey, here’s some stuff I made up,” I don’t think we’d still be talking about him and his work today.

    PS I’m watching the fires in Southern California as well as natural disasters elsewhere with different eyes now.

  95. @easternRoman:
    I hope I am not drifting away from the main issue of the essay, and I also don’t want to minimize the potential impact of abandoning localized, ecological worship in the Mediterranean.
    Just with regard to the Slavic invasions: Florin Curta’s recent work rather shows that the mid-Balkans were devoid of people for a century after Maurice, and mainland Greece was very much depopulated. He thinks the Slavs came into being later.
    I am interested in this issue because it might show that ecological impacts are much more important for the demise of a culture than so-called barbarian invasions (of very topical interest right now, in 2017, both in Europe and the USA).

  96. Matthias, I’ll have to see what I can find when I have time to do the research again.

    Xabier, and the ego eventually consumes everything else…

    David, I think it’s more complex than that, but any kind of thorough discussion will have to wait for a later post.

    Bsfritz, you’re welcome and thank you! Yes, it can be hard to deal with what’s been done to the world if you have any kind of sensitivity to it…

    Phil H., thanks for this!

    Lydia, you’re welcome. It is indeed insanity; fortunately we all have the opportunity to get our wits back.

    EasternRoman, depopulation from disease is a short-term phenomenon that’s very quickly made up by population growth in a resource-rich environment — take a look at European population curves after the Black Death, which as you’ve pointed out is equivalent to Justinian’s plague. The depopulation of Greece that followed the banning of Pagan worship and the cutting of the groves was not a short-term phenomenon at all — it endured for centuries — so you’re comparing apples and oranges. You’re also ignoring a great deal of contemporary evidence about the drastic nature of Justinian’s edicts — consider, for example, the well-documented exodus of Greek Pagans into Persian territory that followed those edicts. It really was the end of an era, and the environmental and demographic consequences were not small.

    CR, of course it’s possible. Things like that happen tolerably often, in fact.

    RMK, no, I think we’re just starting to figure things out. That’s one of the reasons why it’s crucial to pay attention to what nature is saying, and not just cling to our own ideas about what we ought to do.

    Jill, interesting. I gather Huey is a god of water in general, then.

    CR, that’s utterly believable.

    I’d like to offer a piece of advice, by the way, to any of my male readers who wants a relationship with a woman and has run into problems doing so: the comments I made last week about the difference between “I-it” relationships and “I-you” relationships apply very directly to, well, relationships. If you treat women as objects — especially if you treat them as vending machines that are obliged to provide you with sex when you drop in a quarter — you’re going to have a lot of lonely Friday nights; if you treat them as subjects, your chances of having feminine companionship in and out of bed go way up. Oh, and by the way, game is for choads. Thank you, and we now return you to your regularly scheduled Ecosophia post.

    Chris, I’m delighted to hear it. I well remember the intellectual atmosphere in the ’70s, when a great many scientists were more interested in understanding the subtler and more elusive aspects of the world than in yelling denunciations at anyone who sensed something they weren’t supposed to. We still have a long way to go to recover from the consequences of the decade that followed.

    Larissa, any traditional Chinese scholar would have nodded, smiled, and poured you another cup of tea, because in Chinese tradition, that’s exactly what dragons are: the inner aspect of rain and storm. That must have been a wondrous experience!

    Claire, exactly. I’m glad you mentioned Bateson, because he’s a crucial figure in this context, for exactly the reason you indicated: he demonstrated that so long as you cling to dogmatic materialism. the furthest you can go toward an ecocentric worldview isn’t far enough.

    Scotlyn, excellent. There’s nothing mystical about sensing the astral plane, either; it’s just a matter of paying attention… 😉

    Yoyo, I don’t, and would like to. Anyone else?

  97. Temporaryreality, yes, exactly. But the fantasy of being the only one who matters can be very intoxicating for the clueless.

    Reloaded15, Barddas is an amazing hodgepodge — basically, the collected random scraps of paper from Iolo’s desk and filing cabinets. Some of it he invented, some of it he unquestionably got from older sources — even his critics agree with that nowadays — and some of it, well, nobody knows. Even if it was all the outpourings of the mind of a visionary bard…excuse me, but when did that stop being relevant to Celtic spirituality? 😉

  98. You know you are living in interesting times when

    i) you read that some books have such content which is rather hard for us moderns to digest due to ethical concerns;

    ii) you get to witness born-again-Inquisition trying to work its ways over the net.

    Thank you, JMG, for the powerful essay.

  99. I just bought the whole epsish senses up because if we experience spirits as vibes then wouldn’t they experience us in a similar way?

    Off topic – Well its been roughly four months since that solar eclipse and wasn’t one of the planets pointing to economic troubles for the US to be beginning right about now?

  100. To Yoyo and JMG, a German forester named Peter Wohlleben has a book called The Hidden Life of Trees that describes whole forests of oak and beech deciding a year in advance whether to set seeds the following spring or wait a year or two in order to limit the deer and boar populations. I don’t remember whether he identifies the mechanism for that. IIRC there’s evidence for communication among trees using scent, light, electrical impulses, and possibly sound, as well as via the forest-wide networks of fungi that seem to facilitate a lot of the information- and resource-sharing.
    It’s a popular book and the writing was not wonderful in the English translation I read, but it is full of awesome anecdotes. It seems, for instance, that that some trees, when damaged, are kept healthy by their neighbors pumping sugars and water to them through the roots–even stumps of felled trees can be kept alive for decades apparently–while help is withheld from other (less popular?) trees, who die.

  101. @Mister Nobody
    Re: Planes

    Everyone seems to have their own terminology these days. The correspondences I was taught are:

    Physical Plane = 3rd dimension is physical
    Astral Plane = 4th dimension is emotional
    Causal Plane = 5th dimension is intellectual

    above that are the Higher Planes where the correspondence between dimensions and planes breaks down.

    Mental Plane is intellectual
    Messianic Plane is emotional
    Buddhaic Plane is physical

    I’m not sure how this corresponds with what JMG is talking about in these posts. For the record, the Michael of the Michael Teachings is on the mid-Causal plane. Also, very little useful can be said about the Higher Planes, so it’s best to say very little about them, including how many there are.

  102. The Australian Aboriginal tradition includes names and back stories for almost everything in the landscape – mountains, rivers, waterholes, trees, valleys etc. I have a very superficial understanding, but from what I have learned it is commonplace when visiting such a place to announce your presence to the local spirit and show the proper courtesies and respect.

    Based on your description of nature spirits in the past two essays, I believe I may have fallen into an ongoing conversation with one.

    There is a freshwater pond nestled among some coastal sand dunes that I visit regularly. It is edged with vegetation – reeds, shrubs, aquatic plants. It is home to 4 or 5 species of ducks, plenty of insects, snakes, lizards, frogs, rodents, visiting birds (swans, cockatoos, swallows, ravens, magpies) and tortoises.

    While experiencing a particularly stressful phase of life I visit this place to exercise – running up and down the sand dunes. It is a solid workout.

    Some months ago I started to get particularly useful insights into my situation that I could put into use in my life whenever I visited this spot. I put it down to the strenuous exercise getting my mind working. But as time went on I had to admit the ideas felt like they were coming from outside. It’s hard to explain. If I consciously try to get all “mystical”, the ideas come in my own internal voice; they are forced. But other ideas come in some other voice, like they’ve blown in through an open window.

    So I started dipping my feet into the pond and asking some questions. If I stay still, mentally, and relax, the outside voice blows in. One day, a name even blew in. A name for the spirit. Which I held in my mind for about 5 mins and lost it. Next time it comes I will be sure to write it down.

    So it is unimportant to me whether or not there is some external being communicating with me, or this is just a place where I get to think more clearly. For me, right now, it just works.

  103. Jill, “Huey” or Old Huey is the old New Zealand Pakeha/European outdoor persons (trampers, hunters) term for the bad tempered god of weather. It may be the same entity as the Maori god, Tariwhirimatea, also the god of wind, weather, and storms.

  104. If samadhi/satori/enlightenment/gnosis/whatever is “the integrative insight that makes the entire world transparent to consciousness”, why is it that so many spiritual leaders who claim to have attained it are:

    1. associated with scandals concerning the abuse of power,
    2. using mind control techniques on their disciples,
    3. ineffective at producing said experience in anyone but themselves,
    4. promoting easily disprovable beliefs concerning the physical plane,
    5. making the same mistakes in physical sciences that everyone else of their time did,
    6. any combination of the above?

    There’s a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which makes incompetent people vastly overestimate their capabilities. What if samadhi is just becoming deluded on the grandest possible scale?

  105. Fair enough. I’d ask when will we know we are ready to think or act, but that’s probably just a matter of when and what nature is telling/tells us and how much we are willing to listen.


  106. I’ve found this thread to be quite interesting, especially the descriptions of the four planes. Sadly, I seem to be near blind on anything but the physical plane. It’s not due to a lack of belief in the others, nor to a lack of interest or desire, rather I’ve simply never experienced much of any direct interaction. What little comes through is more akin to vague shadows and muffled sounds.

    While that’s been quite disappointing, it no longer surprises me. I’ve had a lifetime of honing my interactions on the physical plane. The sensory processing is doing it’s job of filtering out all those inputs from the physical senses that “can’t be”, and other senses were never developed or atrophied from lack of use. Clearly it will take a lot of practice and training to learn to develop those, and there may not be enough time in this life to make up for that deficiency. I wonder as well if perhaps there was some reason that this is what I needed to experience in this life.

    Nonetheless, I believe these things do exist, and I’ve had to learn to trust and listen to my inner voice to tell. When I can get away from the world of things and get out into the world of life and beings of all sorts, there is a clear sense of being around those that are alive and conscious, beyond what I can see and touch. It is a feeling, a sense of joy and wonder, but nothing more overt. Equally obvious, there are many places man has ruined, and few if any spirits want to be there now. Sadly it seems those dead places are where most people prefer to be. The places that feel alive to me, and where I prefer to be, seem to make them uncomfortable.

    Yet even the seemingly unspoiled places near my home had been clear cut and barren not all that long ago, and now are filled with new invasive plants, insects and animals while many of the old ones are gone. I often feel that these areas have not fully recovered all their previous spirits, and that there are struggles going on in all the planes. No doubt the beings we cannot see in this plane have been harmed too. Perhaps men created the very world we believed in.

    I’d be excited to have more direct interaction – maybe that will happen someday, or maybe it will have to wait for another life. In the meantime I try to conduct myself responsibly, and hope that my blindness will not offend.

  107. I admit up front how ignorant I am of nature spirits. Like DrHooves, I never (thought I’d) encountered a nature spirit before. Based on your response to him, I guess I can now count the occasional ill wind (or fair wind) that has given me pause.

    Well, you can probably charge me with gross ignorance for what I’m about to say, but I was disappointed you didn’t mention fairies this week. At the end of last week’s post, I was looking forward to finding out that Tinkerbell is based on a real phenomenon and which ancient lore Walt Disney based her character upon. I’m serious!

    What you describe instead is disappointingly mundane to me. (Haven’t we all felt a vibe at some point in our lives? Sorry, not to knock your excellent explanation of it.)

    So, after you roll your eyes at me, can you please tell me if fairies are real, if they share any characteristics with Tinkerbell, and why you spell it “faeries.” Or at least let me know if that’s to be saved for the advanced course!

  108. @Steve T

    I’m glad someone who reads this blog is also in the Los Angeles area. It’s pretty wild to be reading about nature spirits and hurricane warriors when California is experiencing something that words just fail to describe. Although the fury is mighty, and as JMG mentions, may be unable to be appeased at this point, I for one would be interested in any ideas you may have to humbly attempt to communicate. Even Yahweh let Abraham look for ten righteous men before he let loose on the cities of the plain.

  109. JMG,

    I really appreciated this second essay on Nature Spirits. Your points felt much clearer to me than the esay last week, but also sparked a great many thoughts.

    First, your explanation and comments about the nature spirits and dieties made me think very much of Plato’s idea of the Forms. Since I’m not versed in ancient Greek at all, he may very well have meant something similar to the idea that for everything in the physical plane there is something in the spiritual plane which contains the essence of all such things, hence why in the Bible it is translated as humans being made in the image of god, or the form of god.

    Second, understanding that one must learn to communicate within all these planes of existence really encourages one to make change conservatively. If one takes into account the reasoning of the trees, rocks, plants, soil, water, and all the connections the physical things in that plane have with other entities in other planes, and then one must learn to interpret all this communication … well how could you possibly consider all these things? I understand now why you value so much what can be learned from history and on why we can use it as a guide for what is to come.

  110. Okay I have no idea if you’re still following this lengthy thread, but a few polite and honest questions:

    1) What source(s) do you have that the ancients thought of their Gods as (if I’m reading this piece) as emergent embodied agents rather than (as I’ve always thought) transcendent beings that hold certain elements in their dominion? I’ll freely admit how that perception has been coloured by Christendom, but I have no way of knowing how much.

    2) I like how you freely admit the limits of subjectivity. In almost every other writing on the supernatural or trans-naturalism (for lack of a better term) I’ve ever encountered I’ve detected an assumption of objectivity (which, again, may be projection from my evangelical upbringing). But based on what science has observed about how malleable human perception is, doesn’t Occam’s Razor dictate that it’s simpler to assume that the agency we see in nature is projection?

    3) How do you define the criteria for something being a conscious agent? I know I’m missing a lot here, but it feels like your definition of spirits here seems to be a metaphor of embodiment. I bring up Occam’s Razor again, but if all these things (especially what we would consider inanimate matter) have agency then what IS agency? How does that term still have meaning, how do we determine it against non-agency? How do we know they have it against how we know it works in conscious agents (which I freely extend to the rest of the animal kingdom)?

    Also an unrelated curio: I know your post doesn’t have anything to do with incorporeal entities, but if you’ve ever read the theory of Boltzmann Brains, I think that may or may not be a passable explanation of what those things are (if they exist and if that theory is true).

  111. Thank you for this. I don’t know why I coulnd’t quite wrap my head around nature spirits before, but this post was clear, practical, and quite literally changes the way I look at everyday things–exactly what I was looking forward to when you started the new blog. Maybe some folks know this stuff and take it for granted that others do as well, but I certainly appreciate this type of Ecosophia 101 discussion. Which is to say, if you’re ever wondering whether or not something of this nature would make a good post of the week, count my vote for absolutely.

  112. Not having yet much experience with nature spirits, I hope you won’t mind if I share one of my admittedly premature occult speculations concerning the planes you’ve mentioned:

    For a while now I’ve thought of the planes in terms of three pairs of gross/subtle aspects: the material/ethereal, the lower astral/upper astral, and the mental/spiritual. The gross aspects are directly perceptible under ordinary circumstances (physical senses for material, imagination for astral, I guess intellectus for the mental). The subtle aspects are, under normal circumstances, perceptible only indirectly. At least for those without extensive training.

    What makes this promising to me is that the pairs themselves seem to fall into a categorization of body/mind/soul. I know that’s a cutesy way of dividing it, and a weird categorization when I’m putting the mental plane in the “soul” pair rather than the mind pair, but I think it works: in the works I’ve read, the material and ethereal are intimately connected with physical incarnation, and share similar (though not identical) structures of time and space: certainly most of the lore about ethereal beings seem to have them bound to particular locations and experiencing a (mostly) orderly progression from past to future, while beings native to the higher planes have no such limitations.

    The two astral planes strike me as the realms of the conscious and unconscious minds, and they have much more fluid structures of time and space: just thinking about the way dreams work, time can still be sorted in terms of before and after, but not in a measurable way, while the difference between “here and there” in dreams is a matter of what’s temporarily convenient.

    With “soul” we get to the essence of things, the realm of the Forms to use Aristotelian/Platonist terminology. Time and space are more theory than practice there. The difference, as it currently, circa 2017, seems to me is that the mental plane is the home of the essences that sort themselves more-or-less neatly into coherent concepts and differentia, while the spiritual plane is the essence of those essences, where even the laws of logic haven’t started to apply yet. This is why it’s so hard to talk about it (everything we say is embedded in some basic logical structures that don’t always apply to this realm).

    This may also explains why the gods can be aspects of other gods, or sometimes identical to another but not always—for example, Frigga and Freya are different goddesses in some traditions but the same in others. Also, the Trinity.

    So I guess my question is… whose ideas have I inadvertently reinvented?

  113. A note on parasensory perceptions: I have been working on the Sphere of Protection ritual and have commented here before about being able to “feel” nwyfre in my palms during the Elemental Cross. I have recently begun trying to incorporate the Circulation of Light, but the rotations have proven difficult to visualize, so I have just been focusing on visualizing the stationary sphere. The first time I did so, a week or two ago, I was a bit taken aback at how strongly nwyfre responded compared to the Elemental Cross alone. And today, I am pretty sure I actually “saw” the fields of nwyfre around my palms after completing the visualization. They were roughly spherical (although they dragged and deformed somewhat with motion) and made of faint white light cupped in my palms which trailed the motions of my hands and intensified in “visibility” where they overlapped (I could also “feel” this interaction, as usual). This was totally unexpected and really very cool!

    (I am having some technical difficulties with the comment form, so if you receive a comment or comments that are substantively the same as this one, please feel free to put through only one of them.)

  114. Dear Mr.Greer and the Commentariat,


    I have two questions for this week’s discussions.

    1- How does the schema of the Fourfold Vision relate to the schema of Corpus, Spiritus, and Animus as briefly described in JMG’s book on Geomancy. Does Intelluctus correspond to Animus? The Astral to Spiritus? What of the fourth aspect?

    2- Is there any truth to the admonition often given in my home country to avoid lonely and barren places around sunset? I have heard a few stories, including from my mother, in which as children they encountered a malevolent entity at sunset, like djinns or ‘churails’ (malevolent female entities). Often the location was a lonely tree in the area.



  115. JMG,

    Thanks you for this essay. I do not know if this is a useful analogy, but would it be appropriate to compare the way of sensing the other realities to optical illusions of the kind that have two or more images in it? Which one you see depends on which one you spot first and sometimes you only see the other with great difficulty. However, once you see it, you can not unsee it. A new meaning is suddenly obvious, whereas it simply did not exist before. Both images are simultaneously present, but you can only truly see only one of them at a time, however swiftly you change between them. Further, if you do not know beforehand that the picture includes more than one image, it is quite improbable for you to see the other image, as you do not even know you are supposed to see it.

    Something like this thappened to me on my way back home, commuting by bus. In one turn I saw the familiar logo of McDonalds high on a pole, shining its yellow gleam across the dark northern sky. Somehow it begun to fill me with sensations of dread and repulsiveness. I thought it curious and reflected this experience together with this essay. Something begun to stir within me and it was not pleasant. This morning on my way to work I saw it again and this time I saw it clearly. I saw the gluttonous advertisements that target the very basic need to be fed, but in return offer fat, sugar and poor quality nourishment that never truly satiates anyone, thus forever luring the gullible to return to the springs of emptiness. I expanded my view and saw this particular shrine to be but one of great many, and I looked further and saw the various executive board rooms inhabited with the priesthood, clothed in their fashioable garments and appropriate priestly outfits, but filled with the very same emptiness.

    They too serve the emptiness, the empty promises, the empty indifference of the consequences of their decisions, their conscious commitment to lead the masses to the very pit of emptiness, the empty words in their advertisements, the empty content of the happy faces, the images of happy families, all sacrificed to the great void – to gain empty wealth and power, to gain all that on the expence of the living people around them and the very ecosystem they all depend on.

    But it was not all emptiness, for something was stirring in the void. I saw, from a distance, a sinister force, a mighty presence from the dawn of time, a spiteful entity, not evil exactly, as that label would imply a choice in its ways, but a strong imbalanced force of entropy, set free to reign and veiled in order to shield the blind from its true and hideous nature. But I saw through this veil and can no longer unsee it. I felt neither fear nor pity, but rather calm understanding of its nature and acceptance of the fact that such things are very real and in essence, very alive. It was through this understanding of these entities, on all these levels to be truly alive, that I could also relate to them as I would relate to a pack of rabid dogs – to steer clear of them, to know them enough to avoid their paths, to learn to protect myself and never seek an alliance of any kind with them.

    So, now I see.

    I do not “see” them with my eyes nor as images in my mind, but rather use these figures of speech as symbols for the realities I experience in order to communicate them. Suddenly all this became way more personal. I had an intellectual understanding of such matters before, but since it was there in the realm of abstarctions, it did not move me much. Now, though, I am thrown off balance with this mighty blow and do not know where I will find a new equilibrium. What I do know that my desire to spend time in the natural world has suddenly multiplied.

    I was hoping to meet the fair folk first, but I suppose it can work this way too – to be driven to them and seek shelter from them in order to avoid the rabid dogs.

    Ps. I know this realisation is not limited to only one huge corporation. I am fairly certain that I will continue to see many things around me in a very different light and it will most certainly cause a great deal of pain and nausea and possibly a good number of changes in my own life, some of them very difficult to deal with. I am now wide awake with the realisation that I too feed and protect the rabid dogs and greatly “benefit” from their services. They are right here and they are great in their number. I do not fear them but I fear the change that I must undertake, the painful metamorphosis.

  116. JMG- This might be a near-duplicate post, since I didn’t see the original pop up “for moderation”. You don’t need to keep both of them!

    CR Patino – After reading the article about “ambiance models” hired to attend corporate holiday parties in Silicon Valley, which would otherwise be overwhelmingly male, I imagined a TV show in which the Boss directs an employee to hire some models, but due to an unfortunate series of misunderstandings, a load of clothing-store manikins is delivered instead. In a panic, the party setup crew put clothes on the manikins and position them around the room, and nobody notices the difference. The men arrive and talk to each other about work, cast admiring gazes at the manikins, talk about the beautiful strangers in their midst, and eventually talk at them. The manikins behave as they expect women to behave: quietly patient. (And how much different would it be, really, from hiring models who know no-one and are contractually required to pretend to be co-workers but never exchange contact information.)

    Back in the office after the party, the Boss praises the employee for his creative and economical solution to the “ambiance problem”, and they plan to do the same thing next year. “And we don’t need to worry about harassment or assault claims!”

    Next year rolls around, and they discover that there are no manikins to rent, because word got around, and all of the manikins are already committed to other corporate parties.

    Such a grim comedy seems to be so fitting for TV that I wonder whether it’s already been done. Not to my knowledge, but I know little about TV.

  117. Regarding vibes, there happened to me something interesting. During the last year, I was a few times at dancing events, some were salsa, and some were swing. The curious thing was, that I didn’t really feel at home at the salsa events, whereas the swing events mostly were more congenial and comfortable. I don’t know why this was the case, because in both groups there were nice people.

    Furthermore, I have a somewhat strange question: Might it be that civilizations as a whole and different stages of said civilization have their own, distinctive, positive or negative, or other, vibe?

  118. @Dean

    Your spooky place reminds me of an experience I had while walking the woods of a neighbour of a friend. It was about 70 acres, with a trail that contoured the property, ran past a wide stream, and through marsh. I had the owner’s permission to be there.

    I entered the trail with senses as open as I could make them, and could feel the woods watching back, curious and interested. It was wonderful. As I approached the back corner of the property, the farthest reach into no-man’s land, a growing dread began to grow on me, to the point where I was almost paralyzed by the sense. I could not understand why this might be because to my eyes everything was as it should be: a peaceful wooded area. But I sensed a strong hostility there, and thought it was directed at me.

    As I rounded the corner of the property, I saw on the trail ahead of me what appeared to be a man in a plaid shirt, slumped over. I froze, because a woman alone in the woods is vulnerable. But the figure did not move, and I realized perhaps it was a dead person. I thought possibly a heart attack.

    The dread at this point screamed in my ears, the focus was unmistakable, and I knew that this was what the trees had been trying to tell me.

    As I moved closer, I saw that this was not a man after all (and breathed an enormous sigh of relief) but a huge 4 foot tall stuffed animal of the amusement fair type that people “win” at stupid games. It had been there for years, soiled and sagging, but still relatively intact because it was made of synthetics.

    The trees loathed it. The dread I had felt was their’s. That was communicated to me very clearly.

    I continued on my walk without changing anything, because I was a guest on the property. As I walked away the feeling of dread diminished and I felt again the wonderful feel of the woods.

    I told my friend later that the trees hated that thing, and she said the owner had dropped it there to mark the corner of the property. I thought it best not to move it because the owner was a stranger and I had no right to tell him what to do, but always felt I had betrayed the trees, who in a sense were asking me to do something about it. I never went back to that corner.

    Dean, maybe there is something that was dropped in your spooky place that the spirits are asking people to do something about. Just a thought.

  119. @ Yoyo,
    I saw the idea that trees coordinate the distribution of seeds and nuts with each other discussed in either the film “Intelligent Trees” (2016), or the book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World”. Sorry I can’t do links, I seemed to have bungled a previous attempt.

  120. Here’s another question, if I may.

    There are several books which contain exercises designed to develop and train perception on the three non-physical planes. How can someone who is not a trained occultist tell between exercises which are safe and useful, versus those which have a good chance on landing the reader in a mental asylum?

    Thank you!

  121. Yoyo & JMG: I’ve noticed a process in my area that may be related. It seems like fruit trees will produce very well in one year (lately, it seems to be even-numbered years around here) & then, the following year (these have been odd-numbered years), nut trees will produce very well. My family & I have been observing this now since about 2010 & it has been consistent. We’ve talked to others about this, so far we have received potential explanations based upon material-world observations but we are reconsidering in light of these latest posts. The potential material explanations have been, e.g., fruit trees that are not pruned are not able to produce abundant fruit every year, moisture issues, etc., these explanations have not been very satisfying. Our family has a hypothesis that the trees & plants around us may be cooperatively taking turns doing things like blooming, producing, flourishing, etc., which use extra resources, & then, receding, slowing, resting, etc. while another species, type or group takes its turn… We don’t feel like we’ve figured this out yet & Yoyo’s nut tree idea may be a part of it. We will look into this idea with an open mind – just my two cents.

    JMG – thanks for this post! I agree w/others that it is a real mind blower & I wanted to join in expressing copious gratitude.

  122. To Yoyo, JMG, and others, a German forester named Peter Wohlleben has a book called The Hidden Life of Trees that describes whole forests of beech and oak deciding a year in advance whether to set seeds the following spring or wait a year or two and lower the deer and boar populations through starvation. I don’t remember whether he identifies the mechanism for that. IIRC there’s evidence for communication among trees using light, scent, electrical impulses, and possibly sound , as well as the networks of fungi that seem to facilitate a lot of the information- and resource-sharing.
    It’s a popular book and the writing was not wonderful in the English translation I read, but it is full of awesome anecdotes. It seems, for instance, that some damaged trees are kept healthy by their neighbors pumping sugars and water to them through the roots–stumps of felled trees can apparently stay alive for decades even–while help is withheld from other (less popular?) trees, who die.

  123. JMG, you mentioned the strange world of humic colloids and their possible status as a living system. Beneath them I suggest the even stranger world of inorganic clays. When I first discovered the incredibly complex role of clays in soil chemistry my mind was blown away. For example, the surface area of the clay fraction in the top 6″ of a football field is equivalent to the surface area of the continental United States. And clays are a matrix of repeating exchange sites that create self replicating patterns of deposition. If humic acids get the nod, I’m voting for clays as well and plan to treat them with deference and honor! Looks like it really is turtles all the way down.

  124. Many thanks for these essays! I’m still chewing on many of the ideas and need to reread it a few times.

    Last night I finished Patrick Harpur’s Daimonic Reality, which is an excellent and elucidating read. Something I found very interesting is the intersection between daimonic reality and conspiracy theories, Mr. Harpur writes:

    “Conspiracy theories flourish because, in a sense, there has been a conspiracy against the daimons. Suppressed, covered-up, they return to infiltrate our thinking from below, conferring secret diabolical intentions on actual institutions. The sense of conspiracy everywhere is the reverse side of the religious idea that there is an underlying order, benign and protective, beneath or behind appearances. Paranoid ‘seeing through,’ is the negative aspect of artistic or religious insight. There may be profound truth in the folklore belief that if we see the fairies first, they will be benevolent; but if they see us first they will be malign, and we, cursed.”

    After contemplating this idea for awhile I began to giggle. Taken from a certain perspective, the fevered conspiracy theories, especially the more outlandish ones such as the idea that the moon isn’t real or the Beatles were faked and were actually a shifting cast of actors, seem to me quite in line with the stories of mischievous fairies playing tricks on hapless wanderers from times of yore. Of course, it must be much grimmer indeed for the person struggling through such an unbalanced set of assumptions about the world. That being said, imagining fairies as the actual conspirators whispering their mad babble into the eager ears of David Icke is such a funny, and even endearing, mental image…

  125. JMG, I read your above exchange with Michael Dowd with great interest. I have long wondered why you use the terms magic and spirituality to articulate experiences which can easily be described in less “offensive” (as you put it) vocabulary. I am an old school political philosopher, to put it more “offensively,” a student of the mystery teachings and their esoteric writings. There is no presentation of philosophy extricated from political contingency. (I use the term “political” in the Greek sense: politeia.) Of you, I think I now understand both the contingency and the mystery, though certainly it was under my nose for a long time. Of course, there can be no public conversation between philosophers, so I’ll just leave with a tip of the hat to your courage and other virtues.

  126. Thank you, JMG! I feel like this entire post was written in response to my question last week, whether you intended it so or not. You have given me some very concrete suggestions about how to expand my world view. The most obvious thing is that I really need to spend a lot more time outside.

  127. @Larissa

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful thunderstorm dragon experience! What I wouldn’t give…!

    I have a question, though: you said it was a European dragon i.e. chunky, Game-of-Thrones style rather than the serpent-like Asian dragon. I just wanted to ask whether it was a dragon or perhaps a wyvern? In case you don’t know the difference; a dragon has six limbs (four legs, two wings) and a tail, whereas a wyvern has only four limbs (two legs, two wings) and a tail, a bit like a T Rex with big wings instead of the stubby little arms.

  128. JMG and Miriam – This spooky place is miles from any habitation in a wilderness. There was a big wildfire nearby this year and even though it apparently did not burn, areas nearby did and all trails to there are closed, and may be for some time. So I’m not sure when I will be able to get back. Plenty of people do go through – the famous Pacific Crest Trail goes by it on the edge, but I’ve never seen any obvious manmade objects there, except some junk left in campsites. To be honest I’m more interested in why I don’t feel this thing that so many people do as opposed to whatever it is causing them to feel that way. I grew up very rationalistic. I have no intuition on things, I can’t read people by looking at their eyes, any of that. I know there is more, but I’ve got some kind of block on it, always have.

  129. Would it make sense if things like smog have their own spirits? I ask because it would explain a few things I’ve experienced:

    1: While I was in Delhi I was struck by something I’ll call astral screaming: something was in pain and wanted it to end, but couldn’t. I thought it was either my imagination or nature spirits, but what if it was the smog? I don’t know what being smog would be like, but if it is even close to as unpleasant as being in it, the smog would have a reason to hate existing.

    2: Within India there’s this sense that the better off you are the worse the smog effects you. This almost sounds like the more pollution you create, the worse the smog effects you. The materialist explanation is that the rich have air filters and so aren’t used to it like the poor are, but that doesn’t seem like enough of an explanation to me.

    3: It seems like spirits are everywhere, and there doesn’t seem to be a reason why smog should lack them.

  130. To Rationalist:

    It’s been my experience that those that have claimed to experience satori, generally have not. It’s not the sort of thing that one brings up as a boast or in order to gain control. In fact, those that I’ve met that have truly experienced the “fourfold vision” are reticent to speak of it, and usually humble and kind beyond measure. It’s not consciousness in the normal way that one would speak of it — I shudder to even try to describe it, apart from saying that it’s a type of awareness without ego, with the wall between Self and Other totally degraded. It’s impossible to do any description proper justice, as language is designed to have subjects and objects, and something that doesn’t have a point of view to be described can be only be circumscribed by what it’s not. Ugh, and I hesitate even to share this, as it implies that I know something about it, which just isn’t possible. Grain of salt.

    To Yoyo and JMG:

    As a trained scholar I was able to find this paper on mast years in beech trees:

    While no cause has been elucidated for mast years, at least in Sweden, there is a strong correlation between abnormally an abnormally warm and dry July (above the 30-year mean) and having a mast year occur. I am a mere chemist, not an ecologist by trade, so I would be eager for anyone who knows to delve into the statistics and conclusions, and see what sense can be made… of note, the mast year frequency in Sweden is increasing, due to increased warm temperatures during these climate-addled times.

    And, JMG, if you’re still following this thread, thank you for your kind response! I would love to read your thoughts, or perhaps even a future essay, on the difference between benevolent spirits and darker spirits, and the types of environments they tend to inhabit, and why.

  131. Uh, and to follow up re: satori/enlightenment/samadhi, my studies of Zen have led me to this quote, which I think aptly summarizes and/or symbolizes the experience:

    “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”
    -Ch’uan Teng Lu

  132. @latechuck

    I’ve heard there’s one “Sillicon Valley” sitcom, though have never seen it myself. Maybe some screenwritter lurking in the comentariat will bring your vision to fruition???

  133. Some more comments, and I’ll understand if “Those are complex matters, and would require more than a single post to sort out” is the answer here too.

    First, and this is also directed @Aron above–

    I decided against attempting to contact the spirits of the fires directly, because things have a tendency to go haywire when I work with elemental fire. I did, however, cast a geomantic chart for the question “What does the Spirit of the Thomas Fire want?”

    The Thomas Fire, for those who don’t know, is the largest of the many fires ravaging Southern California and is the one closest to me.

    The result was: Right Witness: Bendith Fach/Fortuna Minor; Left Witness: Elw/Aquisitio; Judge: Carchar/Carcer. Way of Points leads to Mab/Puer in the Fourth Mother. (For those unfamiliar, I’m giving the names of the figures in Welsh and Latin, hence the two names in each category. Many geomancers will know the Latin names exclusively. From here on out I’ll just use Welsh.)

    The reading and my interpretation tie in fairly closely with the ideas being discussed here. Here is my interpretation:

    The Right Witness refers to the querent, on whose behalf the question is being asked. In this case, that’s the spirit of the fire. The figure of Bendith Fach is a figure of power, success and, critically *swiftness.* In it the elements of Air and Fire are active. Astrologically it relates to Leo, a fire sign. The fire is thus shown as a being of air (Santa Ana winds) and flame, powerful and fast moving. This confirms what we already know about it. Bendith Fach also relates to success achieved through the aid of another, which suggests the possibility of arson as the efficient cause of the fire. (The fire as a spiritual being with its own internal life is a reality whether or not the efficient cause is an arsonist, a lightning strike, a carburetor or something else.)

    The Left Witness signifies the quesited, the subject of the question. In this case the Left Witness is Elw, which means “Gain.” Elw is a positive figure, but (as JMG writes in his book on Geomancy) also has its negative side, pointing to material gain at the expense of higher things. I read this two ways. On the one hand it signifies that the Fire wants to grow and expand. I also see the Second is what the querent encounters in the context of the question, with the Judge showing the result of that encounter. So– the fires began late Monday night, just as the Christmas Shopping Extravaganza was entering its month-long peak. Thus we see the Fire encountering Elw/Gain in the form of frantic consumerism.

    As a brief aside: I mentioned the Taoist Liu Ming above, and I’ve found his teachings helpful. He often talked about a principle called gan ying, whereby the human and natural worlds reflect one another. Thus excessively yang behavior (like frantic consumerism) in human society is reflected by excessively yang consequences in the natural world (like wildfires, hurricanes, rising global temperatures and so forth). I think that is part of what’s at work here.

    Back to the interpretation: The power of Wind and Fire encounters the spirit of frantic consumerism alive in the “Christmas” season. The result is Carchar. Carchar literally means “prison.” Its interpretation, highly relevant to this blog, is LIMITATION. Astrologically it relates to Saturn, the planet of limits, death and endings, and also of agriculture. In the Druidical Golden Dawn it is associated with Naf, Malkuth in the Hebrew Kaballah, the sphere of Earth and material life. In it the elements of Fire and Earth are active. I think this also has more than one meaning. First, it refers to the result of the Fire’s expansion– scorched ground, Fire and Earth. Second, it refers to what the Fire Spirit, upon encountering the frantic consumerism of the season, is trying to accomplish: An acceptance of the principle of Limitation by the people possessed by the spirit of limitless Gain, and an awareness of their part of the realities of the material world.

    The Way of Points can be followed here; this is a process of determining underlying causes of things. In this case the way of points leads to the figure of Mab, which occupies the position of the Fourth Mother. The Fourth Mother refers to external causes of things, including spiritual causes. Mab is also a fire figure. Mab means “Boy”; astrologically it relates to Mars in Aries, and its nature is that of a headstrong warrior, charging into battle, unencumbered by emotion or restraint. There are a number of possible ways of interpreting this, but what feels most right to me is to see it as referring to the inner, spiritual of the fire itself. So Bendith Fach, the figure of Air and Fire, is an obvious reference to what we already know about the fire– it’s a quick moving inferno being driven by the wind. Mab says something more about its personality. Mab is the figure of the questing knight, and also represents justice. It says to me that the Fire sees itself as an avenging warrior, as I’ve suggested. At the same time, given that Bendith Fach indicates that the efficient cause may be a human, Mab may suggest their identity– a boy or young man, possibly of the sort that used to be called a “juvenile delinquent.” Possibly a deliberate terrorist, possibly flicking a drunken cigarette– though I think the former is more likely given Mab’s other connotations.

    Finally, the figure of the Reconciler is Carchar again in this case. I think of the Reconciler as the Advice Figure– Having seen the result, here is what you can do about it. Under normal circumstances, I’d interpret it as advice for the querent, but in this case, the querent is the Fire Spirit, who probably doesn’t want my advice. Instead I’ll interpret it as advice for us. Become aware of the principle of Limitation and the realities of the material world.

    More– or, even more– esoterically, Carchar could also be seen as relating to elemental Earth and to the Winter Solstice. That suggests that, on a spiritual level, a celebration of the Winter Solstice that takes the Earth element and the season’s nature as a time of stillness, quiet, and reflection seriously might be a step in the right direction.

    Last note for JMG… I know that the astrological stuff isn’t really pertinent here, given that I was definitely practicing Druidical geomancy. I use it though as a kind of metaphor, because it helps me to understand the figures– and I think I’m using the word “understanding” exactly as you described in this post.

  134. Hi again,
    The idea of a variety of beings responding to prayers to Jehovah or Jesus sparked the idea of that what is going on may be similar to the cult following that has led to a multiplicity of Elvis impersonators. Here is all this ritual, worship, prayer and devotion but the object of it is long gone. Why wouldn’t other beings step in to fill the void? And having taken on the role each One would give it a slightly different spin . . . or possibly even lead Their devotees onto a path that better suits Their own purposes.
    Sorry if this offends any Christians out there.

  135. Thank you. I have finally reached a time in my life where I may truly appreciate such enlightening literary works as this. I recall Gurdjieff’s seven levels of octaves and the evolution in consciousness each level offers to the one that truly wants to bask in a “supreme delight” so-to-speak. I liken Blake’s fourfold vision with Gurdjieff’s seven octaves and am beginning to coalesce all of which life has to offer.

  136. I also wanted to comment a bit on intellectus, or understanding. Your description of this capacity gives me a word to describe something I’ve noticed for a long time. Let me try to illustrate…

    I’ve sometimes struggled with my work in the Druidical Golden Dawn, because I find it hard to think in its symbols. You notice above that in my interpretation of a geomantic reading, I felt it necessary to bring in concepts from astrology and Taoist philosophy in order to fully make sense of it. I have found that I use concepts I learned in the Hermetic Golden Dawn– including astrology, Hebrew, angels and so on– as basic tools for thinking, and I use Chinese Taoist concepts– Yin/Yang, 5 Elements, jing-qi-shen as well. I’ve struggled to think with Druidical concepts as easily. Some do come through for me easily– I picked up the
    music and color correspondences very quickly, for example. Sul seems to be the patroness of my kitchen, and I just today read your description of her in the Druid Magic Handbook and discovered that the way I naturally visualized her is the way she is “supposed” to be visualized. Others, though, I struggle with. I use my Hermetic tools and practices once or twice a year to maintain the connection, but I still find it easier to name the Hermetic version of the Tree of Life, including Tarot correspondences and astrology, than the Druid version. I usually remember the geomantic correspondences up to Muner. Coelbren is a struggle and it *feels* very harsh to me.

    Do you have any thoughts on why it is easier to understand– in the sense of intellectus– some things than others?

    Also is there a word for a coherent-package-of-things-to-understand?

  137. JMG,

    I work as a groundskeeper/gardener at a small museum. The museum is about half garden. I’d like to work with the spirit of the garden, or perhaps with the spirit of the museum as a whole. This got me thinking, though. If the museum itself has a spirit – that is, if the physical museum is the body of a being, and the museum is a “who,” than how would this “who” relate to the egregor of the museum? Are egregores just another way of talking about the nested nature of beingness – where beings comprise other beings?

    The museum had been managed very poorly and recently got almost an entirely new staff and board of directors, which implies to me that the museum’s egregore is almost entirely different, which in turn raises questions about the being of which the museum is an embodiment. Lastly, what are your suggestions for communicating with the museum and/or garden as a person?



  138. Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about what I read here, and noticed that I interact with creatures, and some inanimate objects, in an I-You manner more than I’d realized. Having a conversation with a very annoyed squirrel, or apologizing to my harp for bumping into its attached stool. I’m also not very polite to my cellphone when I have trouble getting it to do what I want, which is frequently. I have a better relationship with my computer.

    I wonder if most musicians tend to think of their instruments as something alive, or nearly so. And it is different with different types of instrument. My flute felt like an extension of my voice and my body, but playing my harp is as much like persuading an animal on your lap to purr or sing with me as it is part of me while I’m playing. The connection is different. Did you know that if you play or sing certain notes near the harp, it echos the tone back without you touching it? I’m sure physics has an explanation for that, but it really does make the instrument seem alive when I’m playing the flute and I hear my harp echo a note or two back without me touching it. It also feels like they like each other:)

    Broken or abandoned instruments always seem desperately sad. I get this desire to take them home, fix them up and learn to play them. It isn’t always very practical, though I did take one half-dead ukulele home after finding it in a thrift store for three dollars, fixed it up, and learned to play it. On the way home, I talked to it, explaining what I planned to do. Unfortunately, I’ve found I don’t really like the ukulele all that much. If I’m going to play a stringed instrument, I’d rather play a harp.

    None of this awareness or behavior actually conflicts with being a follower of Christ, so I think I’ll keep it. Heh. Thanks for getting me to notice this.

    I’ve been reading That Hideous Strength while thinking about this, which also ties in with what we’ve been talking about here.

  139. Jonathan, I have a copy of Peter Wohlleben’s book (the irony of his surname does not elude me). It is excellent. Thank you, Peter Wilson, for your explanation of Huey.
    On another note. My mother (that late great ecologist) always said that plants are especially prolific in dry years to make sure enough of their seeds have a chance to survive and continue the plants’ existence.
    A trifecta of comments. No more, I promise.

  140. Michael, trust me, I will. 😉

    Armenio, true enough. You’re welcome and thank you!

    Austin, why, yes, and we have a whopping speculative bubble in Bitcoin and other fictive currencies going at full roar right around us, on top of waning bubbles in tech stocks and half a dozen other things, while — to invert a standard line of poppycock — the fundamentals are about as unsound as they can get. Go long on popcorn, and if you must be on sidewalks in the financial district, watch for falling financiers. (My t’ai chi teacher when I was in Ashland OR, the inimitable Gene Burnett, wrote and performed a seriously NSFW song about the latter phenomenon; enjoy.)

    Jonathan, I wonder if that’s a pseudonym, as “Wohlleben” would seem to mean “living well”! He’s quite correct, though — such things have been documented at great length in ecological literature for a very long time.

    Darren, that’s certainly what it sounds like to me. In ancient Greece, they’d draw the logical conclusion that the pond has a tutelary spirit who’s well disposed to human beings; the whole area would be set apart from human use, diviners would be consulted to find out from the spirit what sort of offerings and behavior pleased it, and since it provides good advice, the pond would probably have ended up as the site of an oracle, where people would approach the pond respectfully with issues they needed to understand. Unfortunately modern societies aren’t usually that sensible!

    Rationalist, that’s a valid question, but it also shows that you don’t know the literature very well. It’s very hard for anybody who hasn’t had the experience to know whether another person has or hasn’t had it — it’s a little like listening to someone who claims to know their way around Poughkeepsie; if you’re from there, you usually know pretty quickly if the other person is shoveling smoke, but if you don’t know the town at all, it’s not easy to figure out if you’re being bamboozled. One consequence is that for the last three thousand years or so, ever since information about those states got out of the old mystery temples, claims of being an enlightened master have been a common ploy of cranks and con artists alike.

    This is why so many classic writings on the subject warn against people who make that claim. Lao Tsu is typically terse — “those who know do not talk; those who talk do not know” — but there are plenty of other warnings of the same kind. I’ve long appreciated the early Buddhist caution: “He who proclaims himself an arhat is not an arhat; he who denies that he is an arhat is not an arhat; he who refuses to answer the question whether or not he is an arhat is not an arhat.” (The implication, of course, is that if you’re actually an arhat, nobody ever suspects you of being one.)

    (As the question has actually come up a couple of times, it’s probably worth stating here that no, I am not an arhat!)

    Of course there’s also another point, which is that samadhi is not the same thing as omniscience. Once it’s over, you have to process what you’ve seen through an ordinary human mind with the furnishings provided by that mind’s biology, culture, and life experience. But when you’re talking about the clowns who go around proclaiming themselves as enlightened masters, it’s usually a safe bet to assume that they’re a**hats, not arhats!

    RMK, got it in one.

    Twilight, you very likely put your finger on the central issue when you mention how much work you’ve put into experiencing the material plane. All our senses improve with use and atrophy with neglect.

    Blue Sun, “faeries” is the older form, and tends to be used by occultists, to differentiate what they’re talking about from the diminutive debutantes with lacy wings who infest Victorian children’s literature and the like. If you’d like to learn more about them, I’d encourage you to find a copy of Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth, a grand old 17th century study on the subject, and Jacques Vallee’s Passport to Magonia, which studies the same thing via an unexpected modern lens. The very widely available coffee table book Faeries by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, curiously enough, is not half bad as a very basic introduction to the lore.

    Prizm, excellent! You’re not mistaken in seeing the connection, because the four planes occur in Plato, and even more so in later Platonists: the One is on the spiritual plane, the Forms or Ideas are on the mental plane, minds are on the astral plane, and bodies are on the material plane. If you want to get very deeply into this, Plotinus is the writer you want to study. As for the need for conservatism and care in making change — yes, exactly.

    Altair, (1) I’m drawing my take on the ancient conception of deities from an extensive personal study of classical literature about gods and spirits. The notion that deities are transcendent beings is utterly foreign to classical Paganism; I’d challenge you to read Homer, for example, and try to find me a single place where even Zeus is presented as being outside or above nature. People who come to the old mythologies from a Christian background tend to read the Christian conception of deity into the old myths, but that grievously obscures the nature of classical thought about the gods and goddesses.

    (2) Occam’s razor is constantly misused in the service of reductionism. If you see three sets of footprints in the snow outside your house, and they differ in shape, length of stride, etc., it’s a misuse of Occam’s razor to insist that one person had to make all three. It’s equally a misuse of Occam’s razor for me to insist that you don’t exist, and I’m just making you up because I like to imagine that I have someone to debate. In exactly the same way, if natural forces behave like persons, it’s a misuse of Occam’s razor to insist that they can’t be persons.

    (3) Instead of trying to come up with an abstract arbitrary definition of “conscious agency,” I propose an ostensive definition — “a conscious agent is something that has a subjective life more or less like the one I have.” (All definitions are ultimately ostensive; that is, they finally ground out in pointing to something and saying, “it’s like that.”) I then propose that all things have such a subjective life. The difference between conscious agency and its lack is therefore not a difference between things, but a difference between the ways I (or you) might choose to approach things.

    I’ll have to look up Boltzmann Brains; it’s not something I’ve read about.

    Kyle, you’re welcome and thank you!

    James, that’s a pretty standard early 20th century occult analysis of the planes, so you’re doing well!

    Jen, glad to hear it. I tend to “feel” rather than “see” parasensory phenomena, but I remember vividly the first time I did certain exercises and brought my palms toward one another, and felt the nwyfre there, as solid as a rock. I didn’t whoop with delight — it was one of those very serious instructional situations where that would have been out of place — but I wanted to.

    Lordyburd, as I mentioned, there are many different ways to divide up the planes of being; the threefold way I used in that book is another. As for lonely places et al., as a rule, if your local folklore tells you something, believe it. Those traditions are there for a reason. I’m thinking just now of the medieval stone markers all over the coastal areas near Fukushima in Japan saying “don’t build closer to the water than this, there are big waves sometimes that will roll in and kill you.” In recent years, nobody paid attention to them — and then the big wave rolled in and killed a lot of people…

    Oskari, the way we see optical illusions is a very good metaphor for what I’m talking about. As for your vision — yes. You’ve gotten a good solid look at one aspect of the real world. (Your description, btw, is very vividly written; I hope you will consider expanding it to a longer essay and publishing it somewhere, online or off.)

    Booklover, it’s not a strange question at all. Of course civilizations have a “vibe,” and to use the jargon of the same subculture, it’s a vibe that gets really heavy as decline and fall sets in.

    Just Me, thanks for this!

    Rationalist, that’s a real challenge, Your best bet is to arrange to meet people who practice a given set of exercises, and see if they’re the kind of people you’d like to become.

    Mateo, you’re welcome and thank you! That’s extremely interesting, about the alternation of fruit and nut crops.

    Redoak, clearly there’s been more research into clays since I last read up on soil science! Many thanks; that definitely looks worth looking into.

    Violet, I encourage you to find a copy of Jacques Vallee’s books Passport to Magonia and Messengers of Deception, and then follow those up with John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. That is to say, you’re on to something, and it’s something that a couple of the most interesting researchers of the unexplained got deeply into back in the day.

    Redoak, thank you. I figured that some people would get it.

    Aigin, yep. I recommend fifteen minutes a week outside doing absolutely nothing, just sitting or standing there with your senses open and your mind clear, as a rock-bottom minimum for basic sanity.

    Dean, interesting. I wonder what a good competent clairvoyant would see there!

    Will, fascinating. I don’t know, but it’s plausible.

    Graham, so noted! The discernment of spirits is a fairly subtle art, but I may be able to say something useful on the subject. The Zen quote is a classic, too — many thanks

    Steve, if you were submitting this divination as part of a degree exam, I’d quibble about the astrology. As you’re not doing so, whatever works for you, works for you… 😉

    Bonnie, it’s a term of abuse used in the pick-up artist (PUA) community. for the kind of guy whose sole chance at a hot date on a Friday night is to put lipstick on his right hand. I’m told that it comes from the Hindi word for penis, and so could be translated “dick” in the sense of “don’t be such a dick.”

    Claire, the Church of the Sub-Genius, which is either a put-on disguised as a religion or a religion disguised as a put-on, used to claim — and may still claim — that one of the features of the Last Days will be the Plague of False Jesii. We’ll have to contend with the Wimp Jesus, the Zombie Jesus, the Screaming Jesus, the 800 Foot Tall Jesus, the Vampire Jesus Who Gave His Blood For You And Wants It Back, and many other fake Jesii, until finally Bob Dobbs and the real, Two-Fisted Jesus return to vanquish the enemies of Slack forever, or something like that. So you may be on to something… 😉

    (Seriously, I think you may well be on to something.)

    DC, glad to hear it.

    Steve, a lot of factors shape the ease or difficulty with which any one person glimpses things by way of intellectus! No, I don’t know of a single word for such a thing.

    Corydalidae, hmm! Many thanks for this.

  141. Alexander, the term “egregor” has a variety of meanings, but in general it refers to the collective life of groups, organizations, and institutions, thus it’s the word you want for the collective life and consciousness of the museum. As far as how to interact with the egregor of the museum and the tutelary spirit of the garden, the best thing to do is to talk to the beings themselves, ask for their guidance, and see what comes to you.

    Corydalidae, and I bet you get very good results from your musical instruments, My dulcimers certainly have their own personalities!

  142. Does taking antidepressants interfere with one’s perceptions of the inner worlds? I want to be able to perceive these things, but I also want to be able to function through the periods of debilitating depression that I get every few years. (Seriously, I have journals going back years to show that daily exercise, meditation and journalling isn’t enough to keep this problem at bay.)

  143. Thanks to Jonathan and Myriam for referring to The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. The book apparently touches on what I mentioned earlier (long-distance communication between tree populations) among various other fascinating phenomena; here’s a good review:

    What I couldn’t remember previously re: communication via the soil turns out to be mycorrhizal fungi networks that can cover vast areas of unbroken forest, underground. This living system now goes by the name of Wood Wide Web; here’s an interesting overview:

  144. JMG, yes, feeling the nwyfre for the first time between my palms after doing the hand shaking/rubbing exercise described in one of your books was what knocked me right out of my “single vision” of scientific materialist atheism. It was utterly unmistakable and completely exhilarating. So thank you for that!

  145. @JMG- great post!

    @Rationalist: this fellow has the audacity to rank spiritual teachers, which might be helpful to you. I have also had the pleasure of meeting several of the teachers he has ranked highly and give my hearty recommendation, for what it’s worth.

  146. Corydalidae- I’ve been “playing with” guitars for about 40 years, and just started trying to salvage elderly and abused instruments. In keeping with the themes of this blog, I’ve toyed with the idea that they may have some sort of spirit to be nurtured and respected. So, I was putting (what I thought to be) the final tuneup on my first (what I thought to be) completed project, and I noticed for the first time ever that when the instrument is completely properly tuned, striking one string will excite harmonies in the other strings. As you say, the instrument seems to “come alive” in a new way.

    The rational side of me said “It’s just coupling the vibration from one string to another. That’s nice.”

    The speculative side of me said “Fine. But how come you never noticed that, before you started paying respect to the person-hood of the instrument?”

    The rational side of me had no answer.

  147. Hello JMG,

    Thank you for the article, it got my head buzzing to think about an entire ecology just adjacent to the one we’re more familiar with.

    Do you have any thoughts on how nature spirits might relate to deep time? Do they evolve like biological life does? Are there sentient and non-sentient and third-option varieties of them, like with animals and plants? If they do evolve what do you think happens if they adapt fully to human ecologies like cities? Do they enter into symbiotic relationships with other forms of life – I assume that that’s what gods might be, but are there other forms of symbiosis?

  148. Kfish, I don’t know. Do they interfere with your ability to sense the “vibe” of a place?

    Jen, delighted to hear it. I was already pretty far along the process of shaking myself out of single vision when I encountered that exercise, but it was still a rush to have the reality of the nonphysical demonstrated that forcefully!

    Isaac, thank you.

    Spicehammer, those are excellent questions, and as far as I know nobody has the least idea what the answers are.

  149. Hello JMG –

    This set of posts has been one I’ve had to chew on for a bit – the ramifications to one’s worldview are large:

    If natire spirits are as you describe, it would seem to require a revisiting of the basic principles upon which one would construct a system of ethics and/or morality. Our society has used the biblical commandments or Hammurabi’s code or occasionally the Golden rule as the basis for reasoning over how to live rightly. But if a salad contains the possibility of existence of soul or the appendage of a deity, it makes negotiating the necessities of life much more fraught and difficult choices.

    And Gratitude- if we indeed are consuming or participating ourselves as an appendage of an agricultural deity (I live on a farm, so this colors my perspective).

    And then of the challenges of understanding freedom and free will if our world is so enspirited and we are either symbiotically connected with and also subjugated to other lives, we are far more constrained than we like to believe ourselves.

    How do you construct a foundation of principles for living rightly and lightly? It would seem even vegans have more to grapple with…


  150. In response to my question of being “trapped” on the material plane, JMG wrote:

    “…it’s been my repeated experience that people who insist that they’ve never experienced anything spiritual have a mistaken idea of what “anything spiritual” amounts to… Are there places that make you feel secure? Are there places that grate on your nerves? ….don’t instantly self-censor and criticize whatever comes to mind, as so many people have been taught to do….”

    JMG, thank you for the response. “anything spiritual” for me would be an experience, preferably repeatable, that takes place outside of the material plane. I was thinking more in terms of a spiritual plane event, and not nature spirits – sorry about being off-topic. I will not disagree with my expectations are probably not in line with the way you’ve explained things. On to your questions – I’m fairly well traveled (49 states and 25 countries), and have not felt anything other than the normal range of human emotions like exhilaration (Crater Lake) or fear of bodily harm (East St. Louis, at night). So FWIW, I do not have anything along the lines of an astral experience to relate to, since I don’t believe the statistically likely experiences of premonition and deja vu count.

    I would agree that part of this “failure to connect” is conditioning, but I have two reasons to think it might not just be that. The first is that I’ve experienced what happens during temporary psychosis, and fully understand the brain’s perceptions when a chemical imbalance is present can result in delusions, hallucinations and paranoia. Hearing voices, “seeing” things that are not present, and fearing “the gods” and wanting my mommy – were all part of that experience. This does not explain all spiritual experiences by others, but underscores the noise and interference that can be in the way.

    Secondly, I’ve taken numerous advanced tests for the military and three-letter .gov agencies, and they all paint me into certain categories of mental capability. While I’m very good at math and reasoning, I’m awful at symbols and images – you do not want me trying to work on a wiring diagram. So my conclusion from this is that it takes a certain potential for sensing things outside of the material plane, and I may not have it.

    In short, your comment that we “all have it” is what I’m skeptical about, but I do think your suggestion is a good one, and I’ll try sensing vibes as well as continue with trying meditation out to see if I can free up the necessary portions of that eight-inch slab o’ meat we call a brain. I’ll let you know if the nature spirits decide I’m worthy of being recognized.

    It’s interesting you mention that dreams are influenced by the astral plane. After posting my question on Wednesday, I met my former manager for coffee, and we spent a couple of lively hours discussing the decline of morality and religion. Some arm waving was involved, as I’m an agnostic and he’s a conservative Christian. But I did agree with many of his conservative views. The next morning, I had a very vivid dream where the Holy Spirit appeared as an angel in the painted glass window of a cathedral, beckoning me to come join it. I felt an incredible fear and “smallness”, similar to several nightmares I’ve had about nuclear war. I woke up in a sweat, and could not recall ever dreaming about a religious experience like that. For now, I’ll chalk it up to an odd coincidence.

  151. @Mateo,

    Another factor to consider is the last frost (or last few frosts) and whether they interrupt flowering. I know that affects fruit trees here in the Midwest, causing different species to produce abundantly or sparsely each year.

    Jessi Thompson

  152. How might someone go about finding that sort of thing out? Is there a way to do it or is it one of the things that we just might never know?

  153. A few remarks – first, I immensely enjoyed reading this latest essay of yours, and I probably agree with most of it; same applies to some of the comments made by your readers.
    Second, I wonder about your definition of magic. You say it’s a bringing about of changes in consciousness, but I thought, historically, magic was about reversing the relation between fact and symbol, so that symbols have a feedback effect on reality. (The map affects the territory.) But perhaps that’s only methodology…
    Third: I’ve often thought that one reason for “single vision and Newton’s sleep” is sort of administrative: that is to say, an over-valuation of consensus. To get consensus, you have to aim low. Science is like a business which depends upon a stable currency of ideas. Not a perfect analogy, but I expect you see what I’m getting at. And it’s a real problem.

  154. Corydalidae and Lathechuck,
    I have been a musician all my life–learned to read music before I learned to read English, and don’t remember learning either!

    My main instrument is cello, has been since I was eight, nearly thirty years now. My cellos have always had names–I don’t know any cello that hasn’t got a name, and all the big-name soloists I’ve met have cellos with names–the cello I have had since I was eighteen is Sunny and she has a bright, cheerful, tone, suitable to solo playing or ensemble. But she likes solo work better. She was made by a retired electrical engineer not far from here and hates rain and humid weather, and is quite sulky about high humidity. She likes being played outside, but I am cautious about weather in general, neither sun nor rain are in her best interests, nor are temperature changes. She prefers silver wrapped gut strings, or perhaps I do!,as she sounds better with them than any other kind. Of course, they are the most expensive. We have champagne tastes and a beer budget! The grand piano in the living room, however, has never given me a hint of what to call him, even though, as noted above, I’ve played him rather indifferently for thirty-five or so years. (Actually, I suspect he’d rather The Grand Piano than the grand piano, now that I think about it.)

    I don’t think, from the musicians I’ve worked with, from beginners to professionals, that musicians have I/It relationships with their instruments. I mostly am around symphonic and other classical musicians, and we slip pretty readily from referring to instruments as ‘it’ around outsiders to using him/her when it’s just us (probably self-protection: musicians are prone to mental illness, don’t spook others), which seems to me from working for years with animals and their people to be one of the keys to recognition of the you-ness of the non-human party. Doesn’t preclude him from being dinner (especially if he’s rooster #4) but does denote something about the relationship.

    You wrote a little about sympathetic vibrations. Those are a great deal of fun to play with and give the stringed instruments some of their richness of tone. It would be lovely if we could all get together and jam!

    I’ve noticed a lot of people, including some very strong materialists, have I/you relationships with cars, trucks, fishing boats, and tractors. That might be a helpful point to anyone wishing to talk about the topic of non-human entities with people not from around these parts of the internet.

  155. Many thanks for the post JMG

    Now the orthodox scientific paradigm has more and more problems to explain observations, taking for example the problem of the “fine tuning” of the physical variables, the probability they have the correct (actual) values to allow for a universe where galaxies, stars, planets and life are possible is, as the physicist Roger Penrose estimate, is 1 divided by 10^10^123, a huge number, taking account that they estimate in all the universe the number of barions (electrons + protons + neutrons) are “only” 10^80, zillions times less
    So the “solution” to the “fine tuning” problem proposed by the physicist is the multiverse: zillions of multiverses borning in every quantum interaction that allow, at the end to have any kind of universe, even the universe we are living…. Is this a good use of the Occam’s Razor? Is, in fact, a real scientific theory or a meta-physical one? because two “universe” must be casually-isolated one of the other, or if not, they are regions of the same universe, and them: how can you prove the existence of another universe casually isolated?, fo course you cannot, and of course is not a falsable, and then scientific hypothesis

    The universe is a living organism that regulate itself with their own purpose (or will) and the “mechanism” (like the physics constants) are consequences, not causes, of how it operates

    If I go to give a kiss to my daughter you can fill one hundred blackboards with all the “mechanism” that “makes me” give that kiss, but this kind of things are purpose-driven can use some thousand other so called “mechanism” to achieve the purpose

    The same happens when the physicist try to explain why the stars of the periphery of galaxies rotate a so high capacity not explained by the estimate mass of the galaxies, and then they “postulate” the existence of “Dark Matter” but nobody know what it is

    Or when they observe the stars and galaxies seems to be moving away in an accelerating pace, the “invent” the “Dark Energy”, that nobody know what it is
    The physicist estimate that after big bang it was a period of hyperinflation, and after that the expantion of universe slow down, and recently start again to speed-up, and they try to explain this by some kind of “mechanism” of the dark energy and “natural laws”. Why do not see what is sugest, there are not “natural laws” in the larger scales of time and space, but purposeful living organisms

    The notion of eternal Natural Laws was, which is the base of all the scientific paradigm, for me is the consequence of the predestinationism faith, the Newtonian-Cartesian conception of a clockwork (dead) universe.
    Newton was a lucky man when he centered his effort to solve the problem of the two bodies, because he had choose the 3 bodies …So you have to narrow a lot your vision to accept that kind of worldview

    For me the way science was born and still operate, in fact, is a consequence of the translation to the natural phylosophy of the calvinistic worldview, and for me it was the reason the romans or the greeks could not develope the kind of science we have now. They do not have a predestinationism world view; for them all was alive and all the events of the world were not “defined” from he begining of times, so they do not believe in “eternal natural laws”

    For me this debate about the multiverse and the dark entities reminds me the last days of the byzantine empire in 1453, where the more live theological debate was how many angels fit on the end of a pin; and then the turks (barbarians) arrive and end the controversy cutting the theological necks

    Probably the new barbarians will end the existing scientific debate in the same way showing what the will can do

  156. @ Corydalae – thank you for that Lancet article, which i was able to read for free after opening an account. The author, Dr Athar Yawar is an extraordinarily interesting thinkier, and I am glad of the opportunity to discover him. In another paper, Healing in the Sufi Tradition, – find it here he says the following, which seems very apt to this post, regarding the senses that permit us to see the “inner” aspect of what is there.

    “The Sufi method, as I very limitedly understand it, is all about self-effacement: in other words, the idea is to become transparent to reality. Now, that isn’t the same as putting yourself aside, because your self will undoubtedly creep in when it gets the chance. The only way to efface yourself, if this isn’t simplistic, is by literally not being there, by being transparent to all around you, in the spirit of love – a wonderful Moroccan phrase, ‘invaders of the heart’ – so that the whole universe invades your heart, and you perceive it truly, you perceive it with love. The theological way to put this is that because the whole universe is a divine creation, anything within it ultimately must reflect that divinity: so that if anything were to be known truly, it would reveal infinite grace. There’s a wonderful line in the Koran where it says that God is not too proud to coin a parable for Himself even in a gnat. So, if you were to know and love a gnat truly, you would see divinity. At the risk of being simplistic, the rest is just technique; and what the Sufis claim to do is to teach technique, although there is an unravelling there, which I may come to later.”

    What is interesting is that his career, including a stint at the Lancet, is hugely informed by scientific method, and so he knows exactly the conversation that needs to be had with the materialism science has a need to invoke. Very interesting stuff.

  157. JMG,

    Thank you. I had not thought of it, but it turns out I could very well use what I wrote in my comment in a book I have been drafting. I have certainly not been too committed to actually finishing it, but now you make me reconsider my efforts.

  158. Hi JMG and everyone,

    In chapter 21 of “The Mystical Qabalah,” Dion Fortune seems to suggest that the gods are the forces of nature given astral forms by the worship of humans.

    Does this fit with your experiences, or do you believe the gods exist on all planes independently of humans? By this I mean, are the personifications of the gods of different cultures simply a device we use to contact the spirits of nature, or do the specific names and personalities we use exist independently of us?

    It seems like gods of different pantheons are often equated with similar ones from other pantheons, and almost considered the same being, but other times, even when they represent the same natural force, they have minor differences and are treated as separate beings.

    Are the spirits of various natural forces single beings called by multiple names in different cultures and places, &simply assigned various names and personas with minor differences depending on the people who encounter them?

    I’m probably thinking too hard about this, but it’s always been something that confused me a bit. I haven’t had any clear experiences with spirits where I’d be able to question them about this, so I’m curious what others have experienced.

  159. As well as “Passport To Magonia” and “The Mothman Prophesies”, I’d also recommend “The Goblin Universe” by Ted Holliday, about his hunt for the Loch Ness monster. This also comes with a very long foreward by Colin Wilson.

    There’s also [URL=””]my own book[/URL] that I wrote about Trickster phenomena, which I disguised as a biography of Britain’s skeeziest punk band.

  160. Thanks for this two-part post, JMG. Given the subject matter, these posts are definitely among my all-time favourites!

    I was one of those children who made the mistake of telling friends and playmates about what I felt and experienced in wild places and, after being mocked mercilessly, learned to shut up. But I never doubted my own experiences; I just kept them to myself and the few fellow “weirdos” whom I could find. Fortunately you have a voice that can open the door – even if it is a little crack – that leads to a room of unimaginable vastness, wonder and glory, for those with open minds.

    Thanks, also, for choosing Blake as the “key” to open this “door”. By chance I have been studying Blake’s life and works rather obsessively for the past couple of months so I was delighted by your interpretation of his “fourfold vision”. I can’t imagine using a better “key” than Blake to take as many readers along with you as possible into what, for many, is a bizarre adventure.

    There are many who are trying their best to re-enchant the world: most of us find only extremely modest ways to do it. Thanks, again, for using your gifts and wisdom to re-enchant thousands of readers.

  161. ‘Two decades ago, while researching her doctoral thesis, ecologist Suzanne Simard discovered that trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil — in other words, she found, they “talk” to each other. Since then, Simard, now at the University of British Columbia, has pioneered further research into how trees converse, including how these fungal filigrees help trees send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die.

    ‘By using phrases like “forest wisdom” and “mother trees” when she speaks about this elaborate system, which she compares to neural networks in human brains, Simard’s work has helped change how scientists define interactions between plants. “A forest is a cooperative system,” she said in an interview with Yale Environment 360. “To me, using the language of ‘communication’ made more sense because we were looking at not just resource transfers, but things like defense signaling and kin recognition signaling. We as human beings can relate to this better. If we can relate to it, then we’re going to care about it more. If we care about it more, then we’re going to do a better job of stewarding our landscapes.”’

  162. @JMG You said “I tend to “feel” rather than “see” parasensory phenomena, but I remember vividly the first time I did certain exercises and brought my palms toward one another, and felt the nwyfre there, as solid as a rock”

    Over the past few days I have been mulling* and exploring memory to recover other experiences of “the inner side”. And a memory which surfaced involved a workshop run by a herbalist which I attended in my mid-twenties (long before I had taken up the study of acupuncture, or read much on any healing modality). One of the exercises involved receiving a spoonful of dry herb in one palm, hold it there (without smelling) for a minute or so, and then writing for 3 minutes on whatever came to mind. Repeat with a new herb 3 or 4 times.

    I clearly remember writing about an earthy cave, with treeroots hanging into it from above, and lots of bones scattered about on the “floor” after contact with a herb that was revealed to be comfrey. And writing about taking a flying swoop and soar above peaks of crisp, snowy mountains after contact with a herb revealed to be “rosemary”. I was quite amazed at this, and had no idea how I had come by such insights.

    However, this, together with the experiences I’ve described with acupuncture points and needling, and other experiences I’ve had while practicing Tai Chi, are combining to tell me that I should really begin to “listen” for the “inner side” of the world with my hands, which obviously have a bit more practiced ability than my eyes or ears.

    Is “clairtactility” a thing? 😉

    *I say “mulling” because my “dedicated” meditation practice is still patchy and less than routine. However, a post like this one continues to “echo” through all the activities of the week, and it is often during those activities that a deeper understanding or a connection is reached.

  163. Magic: (Webster): “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

    Magic: (JMG): “the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will…”

    When I am criticized for not believing in magic, it is the magic as defined by Webster that I have in mind. “Magic” as you define it John, is another thing. It is one of the best descriptions of the “inner journey” I have heard, so long as the “will” is not diseased, malevolent, corrupt, self-absorbed, or lusting for power. There is no higher pursuit than understanding what is true, blending that with experience to find wisdom, and allowing that to mold our conscious being into one of value. “Magic”, as defined by Webster is – in my opinion – usually an impediment when seeking wisdom, thus compromising any effort to changing a consciousness into one of maturity and value.

    In like manner my view, (and that of the other atheists I know) dismisses the thousands of “supernatural” beings created by human imaginations and misunderstandings about nature over the millennia, including the one(s) currently in vogue. But “god”, as you us the term, is not “the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.” (As defined by Oxford.) Instead there are nature spirits, entities that are as much a part of the natural evolution of the universe as humanity itself. There is a hint of pantheism but, for the most part, there is nothing fundamentally supernatural about them. (The idea that “the universe is more like a great thought than a great machine” has a hint of pantheism also.)

    “Planes of experience” sound a lot like multiple dimensions, dark energy, and dark matter. The fundamentals of physics hold that space and time are variable to the point of vanishing given the right conditions, moving at the speed of light and quantum entanglement being two of them. “Deep space”, “deep time”, and “deep consciousness” are ideas born as much out of what we have learned of the universe – including ourselves – as they are of religion or mysticism.

    To me religion, particularly the fundamentalist kind, is a place void of facts and shy of wisdom. Science is often a place full of facts but even more shy of wisdom. But mythology? Mythology plays with facts, lines them up in weird ways, twists them around and puts them together in odd shapes; and makes room for a lot of wisdom. Seeing nature as “you” lines up the facts in a way that leads to finding responsible ways to live. I suspect there is a lot of wisdom to be found in the idea of “nature spirits” as well, though I am less sure about pressing them too hard to be actual spirits that exist outside of my emotional attachment to trees. (Which is rather pronounced, by the way.) And though I would really, really like to share thoughts with a dolphin, and actually find some wisdom at the very idea, I am not going to hold my breath on that one turning out to be a fact.

  164. JMG – If someone hasn’t done so already, I will volunteer to be the first atheist you’ve met to inhabit “a world full of living, conscious beings embodied in the forces of nature, with whom our species can cultivate mutually beneficial relationships”
    A few growing seasons ago, I started apologizing to saplings that I pulled from my garden but had no where to plant. I generally say a quick something along the lines of “sorry little tree, but I can’t have you growing there,” I didn’t consciously decide that I was going to start this ritual, but it feels right, and I’ve continued it ever since.
    Its not much, but it seems like the right thing to do. I also talk to my plants when I prune them. I would want someone to talk to me if they walked up and started cutting my hair!

  165. Your Yoyo:
    Peter Wohlleben’s fine book, “The Hidden Life of Trees”, has this to say about mast years:

    “Boar and deer are extremely partial to beechnuts and acorns, both of which help them put on a protective layer of fat for winter. They seek out these nuts because they contain up to 50 percent oil and starch – more than any other food. Often whole areas of forest are picked clean down to the last morsel in the fall so that, come spring, hardly any beech and oak seedlings sprout. And that’s why the trees agree in advance. If they don’t bloom every year, then the herbivores cannot count on them. The next generation is kept in check because over the winter the pregnant animals must endure a long stretch with little food, and many of them will not survive. When the beeches or oaks finally all bloom at the same time and set fruit, then it is not possible for the few herbivores left to demolish everything, so there are always enough undiscovered seeds left over to sprout.”

    Wohlleben recognizes that trees in the forest have the ability to cooperate, communicate, feel, and care for each other; his book is worth reading in its entirety.

  166. KF, that’s true. Fortunately you can start by throwing out the idea that it’s anybody’s job to legislate morality for everybody; ethics as I understand them is a process, not a lawbook — a matter of becoming aware of the virtues and learning to express them in thoughts, words, and actions. Gratitude is a good example; starting from the awareness that all things have died that you might live, what thoughts, words, and actions does that call forth from you? How can you respond appropriately to the beings who died to make your dinner? I have no canned answers for those questions; the important thing is to ask them of yourself and follow through on the answers.

    Drhooves, we’re not talking about things that aren’t part of ordinary human experience. We’re talking about things that everyone experiences, but that a reductionistic materialist dogmatism insists on interpreting in a certain rigid and unproductive way. If you’re going to insist that you won’t take the inner side of things into account until and unless the universe does something it doesn’t do, you’re going to be waiting for a long, long time. It’s rather as though you were to insist you weren’t going to believe in geometry until somebody drew you a perfect circle!

    Spicehammer, it’s a slow process. People who communicate with nonhuman intelligences ask questions and get answers; sometimes there’s an extensive body of communications, such as the one Dion Fortune took down in her book The Cosmic Doctrine; and then it’s a matter of doing the same things that are done with any other body of reported observations: you compare different accounts to one another and to such concrete facts as happen to be relevant, come up with hypotheses, and see whether those make sense of previously uncorrelated information or lead to new discoveries.

    Robert, the definition you’ve offered is partial as well as methodological — symbols are among the tools of magic, but they’re not the only tools of magic. The definition I’ve given was crafted by a practitioner, the very respected English occultist Violet Firth Evans (who wrote under the pen name Dion Fortune), on the basis of her own experience and that of her many students. As for the role of consensus in single vision — hmm! That’s a most interesting suggestion. I’ll want to ponder it for a while; you may be on to something.

    DFC, I compare “dark energy” and “dark matter” to the epicycles, equants, and other gimmickry tacked onto the Ptolemaic system of astronomy in its last years, in the attempt to make it make sense in the face of increasingly hostile data. If modern astrophysics survives for another century, my guess is that current theories will land in the trash can, to be replaced by some radically different way of understanding the origin and functioning of the universe. Your broader point is also quite true — the handwaving necessary to justify a purely mechanistic, deterministic view of the cosmos really isn’t holding up well these days.

    Oskari, I’d encourage you to finish that book!

    Ross, the standard occult teaching is that the gods and goddesses exist on all planes. The astral forms, on the other hand, are co-constructed by the deities and their human worshipers as a vehicle for communication: our minds can’t grasp what the deities actually are (see the story of the birth of Dionysos for a useful metaphor for this), so they and we create an imaginal form through which we can interact with them without frying our brains. The human component in the astral form is why there are cultural differences: according to the occult teaching, again, Taranis, Thunor, Thor, Perun, and Perkunas are the same from the god’s side of things, but different from the human side of things. (Since we’re on the human side, it’s appropriate for us to use the relevant imagery, mythology, and practice from the specific tradition we’re following, rather than muddling it all together — just as you can talk about the same things in English, Welsh, Japanese, and Swahili, but mixing together words from these four languages at random doesn’t make for useful communication!)

    Phil, so noted and thank you!

    Ron, you’re most welcome. I’ve been attentive to Blake’s possibilities since I ran across Theodore Roszak’s discussion of his thinking in Where the Wasteland Ends — a brilliant and frustrating book, that! But Blake was right in the middle of the heartland of single vision, and so his fourfold vision is especially valuable:

    “I see the Four-fold Man, The Humanity in deadly sleep
    And its fallen Emanation, the Spectre and its cruel Shadow.
    I see the Past, Present and Future existing all at once
    Before me. O Divine Spirit, sustain me on thy wings,
    That I may awake Albion from his long and cold repose;
    For Bacon and Newton, sheath’d in dismal steel, their terrors hang
    Like iron scourges over Albion: reasonings like vast serpents
    Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.

    “I turn my eyes to the schools and universities of Europe
    And there behold the Loom of Locke, whose Woof rages dire,
    Wash’d by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
    In heavy wreaths folds over every nation: cruel works
    Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
    Moving by compulsion each other, not as those in Eden, which,
    Wheel within wheel, in freedom revolve in harmony and peace.”

    (I recommend chanting that aloud to get the full effect.)

    Squalembrato, yep. People have been discovering, and rediscovering, and re-rediscovering that for a very long time, and then the janitors of single vision come along and sweep it back under the rug.

    Scotlyn, why, yes it is, though the usual term is “psychometry.” It’s a recognized gift, and an extremely useful one.

    Tim, excellent. The definition of magic given by Webster, it’s probably fair to point out, was not crafted by people who actually practice magic — quite the contrary. I shudder to think of what kind of definition of science you’d get if you asked a bunch of people who distrusted science and knew little about it to come up with one! As for “fact,” remember that this word literally means “that which is made” (from Latin factum, past participle of facere, to make. Facts are things we make; data (from Latin dare, to give) is what the universe gives us. A very great deal of data gets thrown aside in the process of constructing accepted fact…

  167. Boysmom, yes, it is a shame we all live too far apart to jam.

    The sympathetic vibrations of the harp came as a shock when I played my flute and my harp answered it from across the room! Winds and brass don’t do that, and the little cardboard-soundboxed harp I’d built from a kit and started playing some time earlier didn’t do that either.

    Two flutes that are being played perfectly in-tune with each other have an odd vibration. I only found that out when I’d been playing for years… and I still haven’t experienced it with two piccolos, although it is apparently much more noticeable – to the point of being distracting. It isn’t common for two piccolos to play together without any other instruments to mask it, and getting piccolos to play in tune is a pain at the best of times. As the joke goes, ‘how do you get 6 piccolo players to play in tune? … shoot 5’.

  168. I don’t think I gender my instruments. After all, trees are alive and most of them are both genders. So are some snails, and then there are fish that switch genders depending on their size, age, and dominance in their group. I tend to think of musical instruments as being life-like, or almost alive, rather than alive in any strict sense, and gender just doesn’t seem relevant to them, so I haven’t applied it.

    As for instrument names, they tend to be descriptive. Rather than being named ‘Sam’ or ‘Jessica’ or whatever, my cardboard harp is ‘harplet’, and the good one is ‘the black harp’ or ‘the big harp’, though it is a bit on the small side as harps go. My original piccolo was ‘picci’, due to being fussier on intonation than a flute and requiring new pads often (not its’ fault, blame marching in the rain).

    I’ll have to think about this more, as it isn’t something I’ve really thought through clearly. Talking to live and certain non-live things is just something I do.

    The computers I’ve owned have sometimes had names, though the current one doesn’t and has been the best-behaved of the lot.

  169. @ YoYo & JMG…

    Paul Stamets touched on this firmly with respect to fungal mats that underlie most forests and even grasslands. Fungi is a HUGE kingdom and very poorly understood. New species found monthly and the compounds fungi produce are amazing. Humans have been using fungal compounds as ‘consciousness expanders’ for millennia.

    Once again, that dang movie ‘Avatar’ comes to mind, and no – I am not a James Cameron apologist or fan. But in the movie something that very much resembles a fungal being is the repository of souls. Again, this was well received in fiction, but is considered crazy in modern science. Yet there has been so much only recently discovered regarding fungi as a chemical and even RNA transport mechanism that I am intrigued.

    Joe Rogen did a podcast with Stamets – worth watching if only to broaden understanding of how all encompassing this Kingdom is on planet Earth, and how it fits into Wholeness so amazingly.

    I am sure science will come up with a very plausible sounding rational for the forest, and then promptly consider the matter explained and settled. Funny how that works out in time – things have a way of coming unsettled, provoking more search for understanding.

  170. That was a very clear and practical model JMG, and it goes a long way towards making sense of some of my experiences–
    Several years ago, I visited a research farm that is being run by The American Chestnut Foundation in Western Maryland. TACF is trying to revive the American Chestnut tree as a viable species—It was wiped out by imported Chinese Chestnut Blight about 100 years ago, and they are back-crossing resistant genes into the native species to allow it to propagate again.
    I was looking forward to seeing mature living chestnut trees for the first time in my life. There were perhaps 16 trees in the test orchard, pretty uniformly 20 feet high. I went over to touch the trunk of one of the trees—and got a strong impression of hostility and anger coming from an extremely different-feeling mind.
    “But– we’re trying to save you!” I said aloud, and got curious looks from some of the other people on the tour.
    I went on to grow chestnut hybrids in my yard. I sometimes found myself explaining to the seedlings and young trees what we were trying to do and encouraging them to grow. The mood from the trees improved to wary mistrust, so I guess that’s progress.
    I had given up on helping the American Chestnuts when I moved to the West Coast, because it is illegal to bring those trees across the Mississippi River, due to the blight. But curiously, through a series of accidents I found out that there is at least one mature American Chestnut tree growing on Salt Spring Island here in British Columbia. Since it is already here and likely planted before the blight, no laws would be broken to plant its offspring. I plan to see about getting some twigs for rooting in the Spring. If there is a grove on the island, I may be able to get viable nuts next Fall for planting in Spring 2019. They like acidic, poor soil, and would be perfect to replenish the deforested areas of British Columbia, especially areas ravaged by the pine beetles/global warming.

    In light of your recent posts, this leads to a critical question—How does the existing habitat feel about new/different trees? Sounds like I should ask them… I am also thinking about consulting First Nations on this, but not sure how to go about it. New experiences 🙂

  171. JMG, et al.

    Re nwyfre and the hands

    I regularly “feel” pressure on my hands in my evening ritual. My usual practice is to let it guide my hands, directing position or movement. The result is that I make various gestures and hold my arms and hands in various positions, without any understanding of what I’m doing or why or if it means or does anything constructive at all. (Still quite challenged by this.)

    The other night I was meditating and felt the same pressure on my palms, so I began responding as I do with my regular ritual. However, I realized I could see something like smoke curling off my hands. It wasn’t candlelight refracting in my lenses, b/c I’d taken my glasses off. And it wasn’t a trick of corner-of-your-eye vision, b/c I was looking directly at it, for many long minutes, asking myself, “am I actually seeing this?” I have no clue what it means or what I’m to do with it, but it most definitely happened.

  172. Oilman, Stamets has done first-rate work on that kingdom of life. Fungi fit nicely into the gap between plants and humus — mycelial mats are less individualized than plants but more so than the amorphous humus-mass — and a less theriocentric understanding of life would give them a very important place.

    Ross, you’re most welcome.

    Emmanuel, fascinating. I wonder why they’re so angry. Definitely talk to the land, the trees, and the local inhabitants!

    David, good. That’s the first stirrings of etheric clairvoyance. Let it develop in its own time, without trying to push it, and it’ll ripen in its proper time frame.

  173. It is so delightful to read a verbal expression of so much of what I rarely find anywhere outside my very small circle. Although you have not expressed the ineffable you’ve surrounded in such a way that it’s all there. Thank you again for being you.

  174. Archdruid,

    I’ve been moving all most of the week, and I finally managed to get to an internet connection to jump in on this conversation. Leave it to you to have the best conversations when I have trouble getting a word in. 😛

    I just have one question. Why do the various spirits – devas, ashuras, and others want to talk to us?



  175. Larry, you’re welcome and thank you. I may not express the ineffable but I do my best to unscrew the inscrutable… 😉

    Varun, most of them don’t. Some of them might, for any number of reasons. You might as well ask why humans want to talk to you — again, most of them don’t!

  176. Alas, I have come by too late in the week to read the entire comment thread – it’s rather long by this point, though as usual, the parts I have read are filled with interesting things.

    It consider myself one of your elusive unicorns – an atheist who’s made some manner of peace with nature spirits. I wouldn’t use that term myself, but it’s what the post uses, and it’ll do well enough. 🙂

    I see it thus: it’s true that humans are composed of atoms and molecules and cells, so called ‘dead matter’, without a spiritual component. But while it’s true, and occasionally useful to look at things that way, it’s also rather harmful most of the time – one need only look at the damage modern civilization has done to our relationships to see that!

    Similarly, it’s true that the park out behind my house is composed of trees, plants, dirt, gravel, etc. – all entirely material. And that view is just as harmful in the case of the park as it is in the case of a person.

    To put it differently – we’re all made of the same things. People, places, stars, storms, situations. Rather than using that as an excuse to treat each other poorly, we should take that as an indication that we need to treat non-humans well too!

    I take my intuition (“vibe sense”) very seriously. I don’t know how it works, but as you’ve said several times, it’s a very useful way of sensing! People, places, situations – I don’t know how people can miss the good or bad vibes coming from certain apartments available for rent!

    All that as a self-professed materialist-atheist. 🙂

  177. JMG, my only indisputable encounter with spirits has been with a pair of dragons here in China, right next to the Great Wall. After reading Larissa’s experience and your reply, I wonder if I can bounce a somewhat off-topic question off you…

    As you pointed out in your reply to Larissa ,dragons in the Chinese tradition are largely benevolent spirits, connected with storms, rain, and with rivers (the ones I encountered were the sibling spirits of two rivers). My feeling is that the same should be true in Druidry.

    We know, for example, that Otzi the Iceman had tattoos on acupuncture points. We know that the people who once lived in the oases of the Taklamakan desert in China were blue-eyed and wore Celtic plaids. It seems to me that once, before the Romans destroyed classical Druidry, there was a cultural continuity from the Atlantic to the Chinese border, running along the steppe corridor north of the Himalayas. Dragons as water spirits would fit this. After all, when Taliesin discovered the red and white dragons, they were in a subterranean pool of water!

    The notion of dragons being fire-breathing, evil creatures seems to me to be a later imported concept: I seem to recall that it comes from Persian tradition, ie south of the Himalayas, and not in prehistory part of European belief systems….

    Do you have a take on this? (And apologies if you’ve already covered this, or it’s in one of your books!)

  178. Whoops! Merlin! Merlin discovered the dragons, not Taliesin!

    Sigh, too eager to post, just after a long day at work… (rolls eyes, facepalm)

  179. @Robert Mathiesen – Hi. I’ve only read Herbert’s Dune novels actually. I was at first cautious about acquiring copies of the novels of his that you suggest (your comment on them was very mixed!) but, I’ve decided to give them a go. I’ve bought an old hardcover edition that includes both those stories and two others. Thanks.

  180. Threewestwinds, thank you — I’d assumed for years that there must be atheists who had a sensible relationship with the reality of other-than-human minds, but it’s good to have that demonstrated.

    Bogatyr, it’s not just Eurasian. I don’t know if you’re at all familiar with the Native American dragon lore, which is extensive and very detailed, and has remarkable parallels with the Chinese lore. The idea of the dragon as an always-malevolent creature seems to be purely a product of Christianity, which equated the dragon with the serpent of Genesis, and that with Satan; even in the old Germanic lore — I’m thinking here especially of Beowulf — the dragon is no more inherently evil than, say, wild boars and bears, it’s just very big, very fierce, and does not take kindly to people stealing things from its hoard. As for Druidry, the dragon is a central symbol, and also an experienced reality; the lines of nwyfre (the life force) that move through the earth are dragon paths, for example.

  181. Hi John Michael,

    The land, and by that I mean the land and everything living in it here has stories to tell. I sort of feel that stories are how they express themselves. And I only get to learn those stories a little bit at a time and I have to listen hard for them. The weird thing is that the place also unfolds at about the rate that I can hear, learn and understand all of the stories.

    Taking your million bad words comment literally (it was useful bit of advice, as expected from a master mage!) I’ve been working on stories. I’m not even half way yet! It is a lot of words…



  182. JMG-

    I’ve been thinking about this since it came out, possibly my favorite piece of yours, but I’m wondering, I’ve long sensed a kinship with certain objects in addition to places. Things that felt like they had a presence, wants, desires, etc, like people in this thread I’ve felt it with musical instruments (wooden), but also with anything that had an engine — automobiles, a couple boats I’ve worked on, motorcycles and so on. I’ve always talked to and related to those objects as if they were people, an I-you relationship I guess.

    Just wondering if that’s considered a similar phenomena akin to nature spirits or something that any occult authors have written about at all that you’re aware of?

    The only thing I can come up with is Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, which sort of deals with this a bit at the beginning of the book, but not really and not from an occult angle.

  183. Many thanks, JMG, for the reply and the wonderful lines of Blake’s. Indeed, I find enormous power in reciting his poems aloud, as if doing so breathes life into the images! Poor, suffering soul that he lived during the dawn of such a Dark Age – one which I hope humanity will see an end to soon. Funny you mention Roszak’s tome: I got partway through it one time (but not as far as his discussion of Blake) when I had borrowed it from the public library – and later the library put it in the reference collection (it has been doing that with hundreds of other occult-themed books lately, much to my dismay).

  184. This is with respect to the atheist materialist position that matter is dead.

    The Italian scientist Francesco Redi (1626-1697) is known for debunking the belief in the spontaneous generation of living things from non-living things: omne vivum ex vivo (“all life comes from life”). If it is the case that the universe gave rise to life, then the universe must be living. To believe otherwise would be akin to believing in the spontaneous generation of maggots from rotting meat, something which Redi showed not to be true. In other words, if Redi’s position is accepted as scientific truth, then to assert that the universe is not living, since life arose not only in it, but from it—an atheist has no recourse to the theistic position, where God really did breathe life into dead matter–, is not scientific..

  185. Bogatyr, JMG,

    Forgive me if this is somewhat rambling, but your discussion has sparked a few neurons. Here in Aotearoa, there’s been talk since the first European settlers arrived about the myriad similarities between Celtic and indigenous Māori designs, culture etc. Putting aside the old stories of pre-waka peoples (i.e. people prior to the Māori immigration ~800 years ago from Polynesia) for the moment, the reason the narrative persists, 200 years on, is because the similarities are indeed considerable. The traditional symbols and motifs bear a striking resemblance, as do what little I know of the customs of each. The stories of the Patupaiarehe/faerie people, the understanding of a world filled with spirits, the tohunga/druidical class whose job it was to communicate with these spirits and intercede with when necessary, and I’ve already spoken in this thread about the dragon-like taniwha, who are especially associated with water bodies. In both cases, the ‘dragons’ were highly serpent-like originally (despite the absence of snakes in both places), but in the case of the Irish in particular evolved to be more ‘modern’ after contact with Christianity (after which point the myths talk of the slaying/banishing of dragons by the likes of St Patrick).

    When I speak at length with people from Ireland, I always sense some degree of distant connection. Even in the everyday, Irish ‘craic’ – which may be lazily translated to “joke” or “fun” – but in my experience is more like a particular social game where the usual proprieties and restrictions against giving offense are suspended. Instead the ‘goal’ becomes how close you can cut to the bone of the other’s egotism without crossing the line into meanness, while simultaneously taking on with good humour and humility as much as you can of the barbs that are thrown at you. We have a strikingly similar game played among Māori, and the Māori/Pacific Islander working class. You might even see the two games as one, but the two games are so developed in their sophistication that attempting to play our game with the Irish often leaves things falling flat – because you have to leave your mastery of the one at the door, and come in at the ground floor ready to be schooled. It’s almost as if the game is inverted, like so much of our Northern/Southern hemisphere cultural practices are (or should be, in my view).

    It’s well accepted that today’s Polynesias are descended from seafarers who left Taiwan some 3000 years ago. Given what you’ve said about the Eurasian & Native American dragon lore, which presumably indicates parallels in wider cultural viewpoints, I wonder if what we’re examining here is the remnants of a broad shared cultural understanding perhaps dating back to the end of the last glacial period 15,000 years ago which has been adapted to the local context. If this is the case, the Irish/Māori parallels would make sense sans direct communication given: first, the relative similarities in climate, geography, etc. between Ireland and the Te Ika a Māui/North Island where the majority lived and second, their extreme isolation and hence their relatively recent colonisation by ‘right thinking’ ideas (e.g. via trade) and peoples.

  186. Chris, it is indeed a lot of words! I have a file box full of my early writing, which sucks to a degree that black holes might envy. It will be burnt before I die. Still, it was those comically inept attempts at fantasy fiction that got me a good chunk of the way toward knowing how to write…

    Sng, I don’t know of any occult literature on engine spirits, unfortunately! It’s something that perhaps deserves some serious study.

    Ron, libraries in general — with some noble exceptions — are heading down the chute at an appalling rate. I’m going to run a series of posts fairly soon about how to salvage the concept of the library at a time when most libraries are committing suicide. Private subscription libraries — the kind of thing Ben Franklin founded — are what I have in mind. More on this soon — and I trust as many such libraries as possible will have Blake in them!

    Squalembrato, you’ll get no argument from me!

    Adam, that’s utterly fascinating. Part of the similarity may simply be a matter of the usual patterns of tribal societies — the Celts retained tribal elements in their cultures until quite recently, which is why they also fit in very well with the First Nations here in North America. But that wouldn’t explain some of the specific details you have in mind. Hmm, and again hmm…

  187. Bogatyr and JMG,

    What an interesting coincidence! I was pondering a very similar thing yesterday and reached the conclusion that since Christianity made the symbol of the serpent an evil thing, and that since serpents symbolically represent the earth, which in turn is connected with the feminine, why perhaps that is why so many in Western cultures, which have been so strongly influenced by Christianity, have such disregard for both the earth, nature, and women. It makes sense, but it would be great to dig deeper and find more examples to make this point all the more conclusive.

  188. My only question about learning to feel the vibes of a place or person is, “How do you know it’s real, and not some unacknowledged prejudice or a tendency to be fearful (one problem I had with the book The Fear Factor”) or a simple “like me = good/unlike me=dubious” reflex?

  189. Adam, yep I’ve noticed that too. The old Celtic theories about NZ settlement pop up every now and then, but as they lack an archaeological proof and tend to be peddled by old white racists they get soundly and wisely ignored. But there is a connection there that goes beyond generalities. I found it in some basic work to try and align your Celtic Golden Dawn system with the Maori pantheon and concepts, and it aligns far too well.

    I even find fragments of fragments of an inner mystery tradition within Maori writings, but what I can’t find are enough details to make a proper connection.

    I’m going to delve further into Rongoa, or traditional Maori medicine and see what they have to say about energy centres in the body, and if they have a tree of life like concept.

    I suspect all of the above is true, however it will mostly be in oral tradition, as the few places that kept the knowledge would have never trusted it to Pakeha hands.

  190. JMG, my children and I offered honey to the nature spirit, and I explained/apologized about the trees and promised to plant more in the spring. It has occurred to me though that some people say they plant a pine tree for Christmas instead of bringing a dead tree into the house. Is this a good idea? Would a pine tree planted in December really survive? Our winters aren’t that bad in West Virginia, so maybe? If it would do alright, maybe I could plant one for Alban Arthuan, which I thought about celebrating with my husband and children.

    I enjoyed the tradition in Orthodox Christianity of one person giving a joyous affirmation on a holiday, with the other(s) giving the traditional response.
    “Christ is risen!”
    “Truly, He is risen!”

    I thought of doing something similar for the solstice. Maybe with a late night procession with candles?
    “The Sun is reborn!”
    “Light has returned to the world!”

    Also, are Hu and Lugh the same God? And if we used incense during a nighttime procession around our yard, would that bother a nature spirit? I wouldn’t want to banish him by using frankincense and/or myrrh outdoors, if that’s what would happen.

  191. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about this weeks post and the ramifications of it’s understandings. As I was out walking, I detoured over to a hillside and walked through the forests there. I took another unusual detour upon the hillside, up towards this beautiful rocky summit which I’d only admired from below. While hiking up, I stared in awe and reverence to one tree in particular. As I examined him, I noticed something which made me feel as if a serpent were twined around him. I could even see a spot where the serpents head formed. Further time admiring him showed me a place which appeared as an eye, and I thought to myself that of course trees have a way to “see” in this world as well as us. I then managed to enter into some conversation with the said tree. It was an enlightening experience.

    As I walked up the hillside further I found another tree which communicated something to me. I asked permission to pass, which was granted, but the response seemed quite delayed. The tree also told me to take a specific path. I thought this weird but obeyed. Later, as I walked around on the hillside I realized that if I had gone a different way, it would have been harder and much more dangerous, especially since there was a thin layer of slippery snow just falling. I realized the tree had just been helping me.

    These experiences made me ponder two thing. The first, was that if there has been less and less communication between humans and the natural world, will the abilities of not only humans but also the natural world to communicate with us decay? My second, was do you have any suggestions for offering thanks to the different spirits? When I asked the first tree, I kid you not, he just replied he’d appreciate more fresh air. This also made me wonder about learning to communicate with the spirits of the world around us and realizing that there are different customs and perhaps even a culture with which we are totally unaware.

    The last thing I wanted to mention, was all of this conversation made me realize how many of us interpret the planes/dimensions as being a separate, almost physical world. This is a huge problem of living in such a materialistic world. Today I realized that all these different planes are fully interconnected, but that it is just a matter of being tuned into the right senses. We as humans are gifted with great physical sensory skill but it takes quite a bit of work and discipline to develop our other senses.

  192. This may be of interest (I’m sure many people are submitting it simultaneously!):

    There Is Such a Thing as Plant Intelligence, from National Geographic.

    JMG: until I read your reply, I had never known that native Americans had dragon legends. If that’s the same tribes that believed in Sidhe-like mound-dwelling little folk (per your comment… um, last week?…) that would be jaw-dropping.

    Adam, interesting. I didn’t know that either.

    JMG again, since my original comment, I’ve made progress further into the Druidry Handbook and found the part of the Second Triad describing the water from springs etc as being connected with dragons. So, that also answers my question, and deepens my understanding. There are a number of those flowing from a particular hill in my home town (also home to Iolo Morganwg, about whom more in your next Ask Me Anything post, perhaps).

  193. Dear JMG,

    Thank you so much for the last two articles – they did answer a few questions I didn’t even think I had on my mind. I admire your ability to pack so much meaning into every single sentence and at the same time crafting them in a way that is very easy to read even for a non-native English speaker.

    Also thanks to everyone who have commented. So much food for thought, ideas to ponder, and tips to apply almost immediately!

    I was lucky to experience several satori (or satori-like) episodes, where it was very obvious that everything is basically alive and conscious, and then finding myself back in the habitual state of consciousness pondering what the dear mother of all has just happened and how in the world can it be related back to “normal” experience of life? One interesting side effect of that was that gardening became difficult, particularly weeding, thinning, or pruning. My day-to-day perception of nature is very far from being attuned to identifying nature spirits in my experiences but just knowing that my activities are destroying or damaging a living and conscious being makes it that much easier to procrastinate and do nothing.

    Yesterday, I finally got myself out to do the job that I dreaded for a few months now – to pull out the blackberry bushes in the wilder part of my garden. Here in Australia blackberries are very invasive and when left alone they occupy large areas of land turning them into an impenetrable jungle, where nothing else grows and not much wildlife is possible. Following some ideas from the comments I said a short prayer to the land and to the community of beings living here, saying what I am going to do and why I feel that it needs to be done. After the job was complete, I said another prayer, offering the pulled out blackberry vines to the spirits of the place and depositing them into one of the heaps of pre-compost material. Once they dry out, I’ll chop them up and mix with the more nutritious ingredients, offering it to the spirits of nature once again.

    Honestly, I didn’t notice anything that I could identify as a response. Maybe it just takes time for a response to develop. Or maybe, and more likely, my sensitivity needs much more training before I can recognise a response in a situation like this. Nevertheless, there was at least one positive result: I didn’t feel half as guilty pulling those thorny buggers out, and they didn’t come out without a fight! :–}

  194. Hi John Michael,

    The spirits sure know that I’ve written some rubbish over the years too! :-)!

    I’d imagine the ceremonial burning process would be quite cathartic for you? I quite enjoy your works of fiction and had trouble putting down the last couple of books. That is a good sign as I have put down some other lesser books and not returned to them. Names shall not be named! Hehe!

    On a more related note to this weeks essay, I don’t actually know where the ideas for this place come from, but I do usually know deep down the next few steps that I have to take. It is an eerie sort of knowledge that. Is such foreknowledge related to this weeks essay?

    Incidentally, I wrote tonight about what i get up to on a day off. Some people tell me that they are busy, but I dunno…



  195. JMG & all
    This week wonderful Storm Dragons and a smiling Chinese sage pouring you/us another cup of tea!

    But Blake – its getting serious! Keep your eye on London. We could see St Paul’s from the low hill near where I was born, but the new skyline is a different signature.

    Phil H

  196. OH, JMG, I can’t wait for the libraries post!! Our local public library has deteriorated to an appalling degree in the last few years. All kinds of gimmicks and entertainments and groups, lots of CDs and computers, but the books are vanishing, and the stacks look neglected. It makes me sad to go in there.

  197. Thank you, John Michael Greer, for your reply to my question about books and the planes. So I take it then that, for example, Phytheas of Massalia’s ON THE OCEAN is here, if only on the astral, mental, and spiritual planes… And, moreover, that even those who have never heard of, never mind actually read, Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, are in fact affected by its existence on the various planes.

    P.S. I very much look forward to reading your future post on libraries. Between fiscal crunches and generalized naivete about the durability and future accessibility of anything stored digitally, I fear the outlook for libraries is grim.

  198. Hello, JMG, and thank you for this series of posts. It seems to be what I’ve been waiting for without quite knowing that I was waiting for anything. I’m planning to buy several more of your books soon.

    A few brief and disconnected anecdotes:

    -In relation to nature spirits: I use a woodstove to heat my home, and it occurred to me one night a few years ago that “it’s the same fire”. That is, instead of building a fire each night and letting it die, I am feeding “the” fire, the same one as the Thomas fire, the same one that anyone, anywhere, has ever seen. It has always seemed cozy, but now I regard it as my guest and company, and I feed it regularly, and it seems glad of my company, too (rarely reluctant to consume my offering; indeed, there are almost always coals left in the morning that eat what I give them – I can go weeks without having to use a match).

    -Shortly after this post, I had a dream sequence one night in which I repeatedly ran into rooms that I “knew” had just been vacated by people. In each case, I had just missed them, and I was frustrated. At the end of the sequence, a group of people (not the “visitors”) were sitting in chairs in yet another room, and asking themselves “should we tell him?” I finally prevailed upon them to tell me, and one of them handed me something that he explained was a picture of my mother in the astral plane (no, I cannot remember what this looked like). I immediately ‘knew” (in the way of dreams) that the “people” I’d been looking for had *never actually departed*, but were right there, always. Just in case your writing was not clear enough, I guess my subconscious gave me this blunt instrument to hammer the point home.

    -I started reading John Steinbeck’s “To a God Unknown” just prior to last week’s post. It’s surprisingly and mysteriously relevant to this series, if anyone is interested.

    Many, many thanks to you.


  199. “There’s very often a time limit for how long a specific named ancestor (who’s not the founder of the family or an important hero or heroine) gets individual reverence? And that after that, they become part of “the ancestors,” who get reverenced in a group? That’s a reflection of the time between death and rebirth.”

    Interesting. Of course, even there I notice that that time varies a great deal according to culture. One trend I notice in many of ancestor-centric cultures is that the longevity of the ancestors is tied directly to memory, with the ancestral spirits fading away once the memories and offerings stop coming in some cases, or if something happens to the body in others. That suggests that certain ancestral veneration practices contain components specially designed to hold those spirits in place so long as a family or a people needs them.

    There does seem to be something else going on as well, though that does point towards a bit more of a blurred line between ancestors and nature spirits. I think in particular of the way nature spirits in Celtic cultures are associated with burial mounds to the point that they’re named after them, or the dual identities of the Alfar of Norse myth as venerated ancestors and the spirits of natural forces simultaneously, or the way that the spirits of certain natural formations often come with a legend of someone who died there a long time ago. There does seem to be a certain blending of the ancestors and nature spirits just beneath the surface.

  200. “I don’t know of any occult literature on engine spirits, unfortunately! It’s something that perhaps deserves some serious study.”

    JMG and sng (if I may), two texts come to mind:

    “The Findhorn Garden” has a short, but quite relevant communication from “a machine deva” (on p. 162): “Machines, too, respond to human love and care. […] Metals are part of the one life; treat them as such and you will get a response.”

    On a more esoteric note, anthroposophical author Wolfgang Weirauch and medium Verena Holstein have been publishing almost 40 books of dialogues with a variety of nature spirits over the last twenty years or so, the first of which has been translated into English as “Nature Spirits and What They Say”. Unfortunately, it is the third one (titled “Naturgeister 3”) that includes various metal, machine, and electricity spirits and is only available in German. (Table of content with short chapter introductions below, just on the off chance.) Based on their anthroposophical background, and contrasting somewhat with the Findhorn approach, they consider some (not all) of these beings as “ahrimanic”, but still important and worth talking to.

  201. Fellow Travelers,

    (I recommend chanting that aloud to get the full effect.) is what JMG said after the excerpt from William Blake.

    That brought to mind that back in the day I had an album of Alan Ginsberg singing William Blake. That led me to the mighty Google and here’s what I found:

    “There was once a time, if you can believe it, when Allen Ginsberg could take the poetry of William Blake, sing it in a recording studio, and then MGM Records would release it as a long-playing album. I refer to the time, of course, of “the sixties,” that half-mythical era that seems to have run from around 1966 to 1972. Smack in the middle of the sixties, thus defined, came this distinctive release, Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, tuned by Allen Ginsberg, recorded in December 1969 and released in 1970…

    Every reader familiar with Blake, of course, knows Songs of Innocence and of Experience as a book, an illustrated collection of poems first self-published in 1789 and in 1794 re-issued and expanded as Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. This work of an 18th-century poet captured the imagination of the 20th-century poet Ginsberg, and not just as reading material; he came to believe that not only did Blake intend his words to be sung, but that he himself could render them faithfully in song — as well as play the piano and harmonium in accompaniment.”

    Here is the link to Open Culture where the above quote, more notes, as well as links to the album are to be found:

    Larry K

  202. Prizm, I think there’s certainly a connection.

    Patricia, you compare notes with other people, and you also see whether your sense of “vibe” is borne out by events — if some person gives off a creepy vibe, do they proceed to act creepy? If a place feels like someone died violently there — a very distinctive and nasty vibe, by the way — and you ask about it, does it turn out that there was a murder there? All in all, it’s like learning to perceive anything else: you check it against other sources of information, and correct first impressions as you go.

    Peter (if I may), that’s utterly fascinating. I’d be intrigued to hear more about the correspondences between The Celtic Golden Dawn and Maori traditions.

    Housewife, when it comes to planting trees, you’ll want to check with someone who knows the local conditions. A local tree nursery ought to be able to tell you when it’s best to plant. Celebrating the return of the Sun with that kind of call and response is very common in some Pagan circles, so you’re in good company! As for Lugh and Hu, no, if Hu Gadarn has an exact Irish equivalent it’s the Dagda — both of them are specifically called “the god of the Druids” in the relevant texts, and they’ve got similar symbolism and characters. Lugh’s equivalent in the Welsh literature is Llew Llaw Gyffes, whom you can read about in the fourth branch of the Mabinogion.

    Prizm, excellent! Yes, exactly. I don’t think the capacity to interact with the whole range of planes and beings has atrophied permanently; it just takes us a lot of work to catch up to where we’d be if, living in a sane society, we’d all grown up doing this sort of thing.

    Bogatyr, get ready to catch your jaw before it hits the floor. Yes, there’s abundant dragon lore among the coast Salish, the people who also have the lore about little people who live in hollow mounds in the forest. I’ve been to a rock on the shoreline in Seattle which an aya’hos, the local variety of dragon, once frequented; young men who wanted to gain the aya’hos as a spirit guardian used to go there at sunset and stay until dawn. If you could face the aya’hos and not panic, it would become your guardian — but if you panicked and tried to run, they’d find your body there the next morning, with the head twisted off.

    But it’s not just the Salish. The First Nations all over this continent have a really rich and abundant dragon lore, which is broadly similar to the Chinese but has its own local and regional variations, as you’d expect.

  203. I would certainly be interested in a post on systems theory – I’ve found information on the content of things to be much easier to find and evaluate than information on context. It would be interesting to see your take, and whom you consider a decent authority on the subject.

    Regarding engine spirits, I would guess Oilman might know a thing or two. I spent two winters after High school working as a roughneck in western Canada, and saw enough of the occult tradition he mentioned a few posts back to be fascinated. Communicating with machinery was one thing a lot of the experienced hands seemed to have down quite reliably. @Oilman, if you’d care to share your insights into that tradition, I at least would be very grateful for the data. I sometimes wonder whether the magic tradition of the O&G industry will vanish without a trace when depletion has run its course.

  204. Ganesh, you’re most welcome, The questions surrounding how to correlate other modes of experience with the sensory mode are serious, no question: not insoluble, but not easy.

    Chris, that’s a very good question. It’s possible that you’re getting prompted by nature spirits; it’s also possible that you’re perceiving these things yourself — once you start perceiving things outside the purely material, time becomes rather more complex than it is in a purely material frame of reference!

    Phil, Blake is as serious as it gets. I think we’ll hear more from him as this conversation continues.

    Lydia, so noted. We’ve got a decent library here in East Providence, but no doubt it’s just a matter of time before it succumbs to the fashionable notion that libraries should be purged of books and reduced to the common level of cultural senility.

    Millicently, yes, and also that people who are already attuned to the thoughts and feelings expressed in War and Peace will tend to be drawn to a physical copy. When the reader is ready, the book appears…

    Econojames, I’m glad to hear it! I see my comment to Millicently just above may also be applicable to blog posts. 😉

    Eric, yep. There are a great many complexities there. It was once a practice, for example, for certain people to step outside the cycle of reincarnation for a few millennia, using techniques not well understood even by occultists today, so they could function as guardian spirits for a family, a community, or a region. The story of Merlin descending into a cave in the earth and remaining there alive is an echo of that old tradition — of course there are many other tales that also echo it. In megalithic northwestern Europe, the techniques were closely linked to mound burial, so when tradition talks about the spirit in the mound being both an ancestor and a land-guardian, they’re quite correct on both counts. There’s a long and bleak story to be told sometime about the way that this archaic spiritual technology got debased into a means of social control and an attempt to cheat death; vampire lore (that is, actual, traditional vampire lore, not the media-generated garbage that passes for it these days) represents the last and most debased form of what was once a high and noble thing.

    DrQwerty, thank you for both of these! There’s a great deal of Anthroposophical literature that could really use being put into English; maybe this comment will inspire someone to look into that.

    Larry, I didn’t happen to know about that, but such things were quite common back in the day. I note that the whole thing’s on Youtube here for those who want to give it a listen.

    Christopher, so noted! I’ll consider it.

  205. DrQwerty & JMG,
    “Machines, too, respond to human love and care. ..” Indeed. I have a reputation for being able to repair machines, but tolerably often they start working just by having me walk into the room. When I’m asked, “How do you DO that?” my reply is, “You just have to LISTEN – it’s telling you what it needs!”

  206. You said:

    “You’ve been existing in all four of them since you were born, and you will continue to exist in all four until you die—

    And then you’ll exist in three of them.”

    I don’t know if you can defend that? You haven’t really given us a reason to believe the senses are independent of each other, and that we exist outside of them to enough of an extent to make that statement true. I would argue that the senses are rooted in the first sense… the idea that science describes “the least of things,” and once the least of things ceases to be, the rest does too.
    I, for one, look forward to the end of my existence (in its time, of course). Unfortunately most people’s fear of death forces them to posit some kind of after-life, whether you are Christian or pagan. But there is no inherent virtue to that idea.
    I am not aware of me before I was born, why should I be aware of me after I die?
    Truthfully, when I read the sentence, “and then you’ll exist in three of them,” it struck me with horror…

  207. Since it’s getting late in the cycle, would you permit a nature spirit related rant? If so…

    What IS it with Norway maples, anyhow? Like I tell them, “I get it – we all want our offspring to do well. But most of us don’t knowingly poison the ground around our feet, then dump mats of waterproof leaves on whatever manages to survive!” So I rake up the leaves so SOMETHING else can live down there, and unless I stir the compost pile regularly (and add urine to boot) I can dig in there four years later and find intact layers of maple leaves. The New Age types all depict trees as old and wise – this is more like having a yard full of wooden trolls. Hmm…wait…never mind…

    (More seriously, “By their fruits you shall know them” and “test everything, retain what is good” apply at least as much to our interactions with nature spirits as those between us humans!)

  208. JMG, Bogatyr, and Adam,

    I’m fascinated by the cross-cultural parallels in dragon and faerie lore. Do any of you have reccomendations of resources for further study? Resources directly addressing the parallels would be great, obviously, but I’d also very much welcome resources specific to any one of the culture’s dragon and/or faerie lore. Thanks in advance!

  209. JMG,

    I understand that in Chinese tradition dragons are associated with the sky, rain and storms. This implies to me that they are on the Solar side of the Solar/Telluric polarity (To use a bit of Druid jargon). However I also understand that European dragons are on the Telluric side of this polarity. Is this accurate? If so, do you know of a reason for the cultural difference? Are these two types of dragons different ways of talking about the red/white and winged/wingless dragons of alchemical lore?

    Thank you,


  210. @Larry – on behalf of all Blake fans in this group, many thanks for the Youtube link to Ginsberg singing Blake! I am absolutely certain that Blake sang his Songs of Innocence and of Experience. And by the accounts that I have recently read in several biographies about Blake, he was known in his youth and middle age as a composer and singer of beautiful melodies! Sadly, none of his music survives…

  211. A little local colour: the village where William Blake was said to have seen angels singing in a tree on the common land, is now one of the most dismal suburbs of London. When I was little, and passed through there, I did try to see them! I had an angel thing.

    That common, or Rye, is a now most unloved piece of municipally-run land, but legally protected as an open space. The last farm closed in about 1900.

    The village, Peckham, was until the mid-19th century known as ‘one of the prettiest villages in the county’, a refuge from the smoky horrors of London town.

    Then the railways and streets of ugly housing for workers came. Not a single vestige of the old village remains, not even the church.

    But one can picture William Blake in Paradisal surroundings, with the lovely, gentle wooded hills of Surrey rising to the South and East. I recall one very beautiful day when the sun rose through mist on the Rye, like a great Turner, and all the modern ugliness vanished…..

  212. I would like to ventilate one particular activity and consider if it is possible to justify that type of activity regarding to natural spirits or if it that activity just is a result of old traditions of a blood sport that in the last decades have been exploited by the consumerism culture?

    The activity I’m thinking about is fly fishing that have been transformed from a blood sport to a catch and release sport where you catch the fish and then release it back to the water. Is this kind of activity only possible if you see the fish as an object, or could it be possible that the spirits would allow
    this kind of activity?

    My experience is that different fly fishers treat the fish in very different ways, some just toss them around as objects and some handles them as the most precious thing on the planet. Is all this just a result of the
    consumerism culture where we are victims of the industry that produce all the stuff you like us to buy, or is it a result of awareness about the limits that our ecosystems have?

    I guess that you can have the same type of question about most of our current outdoor activities that are pushed by the industry that produce the stuff they try to sell to us. My experience is that most people just see
    the nature as objects and like an arena, but some people have a very different approach to the forest, mountains, fish and so on.

    I have some problems to understand and control my thoughts regarding all this. I do like the part of being in the nature and observe everything. The hunting part of the experience is also very stimulating. But is it an acceptable activity to do? I have tried to get away from the consumerism part and have bought a handmade split cane rod that are built of a local rod maker, a rod with a spirit. I’m also planning to go back to a handmade silk line instead of the plastic one. Back to basic and the more simple life.

  213. On the crapification of libraries: Two years ago, I began reading the DC Somerville abridgment of Toynbee’s “A Study of History”, taken out of The Providence Public Library. {I wonder who influenced my decision to read that book? 😉 } When I went back a year later to continue where I left off, it had been de-accessioned or jettisoned or what ever they call it. I now own it, to go with the edition of Spengler I inherited from my father.

  214. @JMG, EricSingletary (on very persistent disembodied beings)

    What do you think of the Japanese practice of the Sokushinbutsu. These were monks that would take to themselves to exist outside of incarnation for extended periods of time (over a million years, if I recall correctly) by a process of extensive preparation followed by being buried alive. Preparations included meditation, hand in hand with a sparse diet intended to consume all body fat and much muscle, as well as load the remaining tissues with mildly toxic fitocomponents that would prevent rot after death.

    The monk would then be sealed in a tiny chamber with no other communication to the exterior than a small air vent. In cold and darness the Sokushinbutsu would meditate, waiting for death, until his body would finally collapse out of dehydration and famine.

    The other monks would reopen the tomb after a prescribed number of days, and if the corpse there showed no signs of corruption, its mummy was exhumated and the Sokushinbutsu would be benerated by the people, whom could the invoque his name to ask for assistance and favors. On the other hand, if there was any rot in the corpse, the tomb would be closed again, the proper funeral ritual would be performed, and the dead monk would still be honored as a noble one who attempted a high feat but failed.

    The last of this burials took place in the 20th century, so there’s modern antropological evidence. Though of course the metaphysical aspects of the ritual cannot be proved.

  215. It’s going to be a bumpy ride learning to communicate with the other planes. As it stands, it seem even being able to communicate amongst humans in terms of nature is greatly being diminished. In 2007, the Oxford Junior Dictionary found it expedient to drop nature words that “included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail.”

  216. DrQwerty, thank you for those references. I don’t speak German unfortunately, but I’ll definitely try to pick up a copy of the translated one anyway (even if it doesn’t get into the metal). It makes some sense to me that such spirits might tend toward what we might call ahrimanic. Engines are fairly brutal things we’ve made when you get down to it.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    JMG0- Unrelated, but I’d love to see a post on systems theory. I’ve muddled my way through Gerald Weinberg and also Niklas Luhmann, but I’d love to hear your take.

  217. @Emmanuel Goldstein re chestnut trees

    Why wouldn’t they be angry? Chestnut wood was highly prized in the Nineteenth Century for fencing, building and furniture due to its ability to resist rot. No doubt overharvesting was already going on and it’s doubtful anyone asked the tree’s permission before they chopped it down. Then the blight came along wiping out billions of trees. While the trees may not have understood how the disease got here, they surely understood we were in some way responsible for it. Finally adding insult to injury, do-gooders wanting to restore the trees began cross breeding them with Asian chestnuts to get eventually get American chestnuts resistant to the blight. Umm..did anyone explain to them what was being done and why? Probably not. Now while we may eventually be able to produce resistant chestnuts and bring them back, its status as one of the most important trees in the Eastern forests is likely gone forever. So yes, there is anger and bitter resentment. Regaining trust is possible but it’s going to take a while. If you plan on doing anything to help them, be sure to explain thoroughly your intentions and wait for an ok from them. If they say ‘yes’, well and good. But if they reply ‘no’, you must bow to that. Don’t just charge ahead and do something thinking you’re helping them. That’s basically saying “I’m doing it for your own good.” That never really goes over well.

    @ Corydalidae

    Your account of your harp picking up the vibrations of your flute is fascinating. You probably have seen videos of Aeolian Harps. Some of them are amazing to listen to. Also have you read the book by Susan Elizabeth Hale titled Sacred Space, Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places? If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.

    Finally in regards to nature spirits, the December issue of National Geographic has an article about the Silk Road in Central Asia. According to the writer of the article, it seems old beliefs about jinn (or genies as we call them) are surprisingly alive and well in this part of the world. Jinn are invisible (becoming visible if they wish), are shape-shifting and don’t like iron (sound familiar?) and are definitely not to be trusted. If you meet one, you can identify him by looking at his feet. If they are pointing backwards, he’s a jinn.

  218. Jonny S,
    I would rank “catch and release” fishing as a bad compromise worse than the original–fishing for food. I think it all came around as one of those half-solutions, but geez, you’re basically torturing the fish by putting a hook in it and taking it out of the water for no good reason. At least if you fish and gut and eat the fish, you are using the fish, so it’s not just torturing an animal for no good reason.

  219. JMG, here’s the basics of my theory about a connection between the Maori mystery traditions, and the system in the Celtic Golden Dawn. I’m really only a beginner at systems of magic, but I do know a bit about NZ, however, I sense both a strong connection and a need/desire/yearning for that connection to be made, largely amongst the Pakeha population.

    However, even in discussing this I am reluctant to replicate existing Maori practices without permission or approval, and so whilst I sense a connection, I also can see the dangers in making quick assumptions, because Maori have retained their traditional practices and whilst open to European concepts (Maori have always been highly innovative with picking up the bits of European concepts that they like) I think it could get ugly pretty quickly if they felt something of this power had been adopted or adapted without discussion. However, adopted and adapted for the right purposes, and they’d be right behind you.

    However, here are the exciting bits of the connection as I see it:

    Maori had/have two systems of spiritual knowledge. The knowledge of the kauwaerunga or upper jaw and the knowledge of the kauwaeraro or lower jaw. The lower system was that which was taught to the masses, and involved the usual set of multiple gods for aspects of nature within a pantheon. These gods overlap very well with the Celtic gods. For example, Tumatauenga, or the Maori god of war, is almost the same as the astrological Mars, right down to the link with hunting and agriculture.

    The kauwaerunga is upper knowledge is where it gets very interesting. This was taught to a select few, likely through an initiatory system, and it may still be taught. Above the usual gods of nature, Maori had a supreme being, called Io Matua Kore (Io the Parentless One), who resides in the 12th heaven (a link to traditional astrology). From this heaven, three kete (or baskets) of knowledge were delivered to mankind. Those three kete link pretty well to the druidical concept of the three rays of light.

    That’s just the beginning. Whilst much of the original lore was lost with European settlement, there were many Maori who saw the value of European writing and quite a bit got written down.

    This is a good link if you have the time:

    So there is a nascent Aotearoa Mysteries.

  220. As of today, there are four websites I participate on (two related, though the owners said they had not discussed topics) of which three as far as I know have no connection between them, that have brought up the topic of genus loci by one name or another in the last week.

    There’s something in the ether!

  221. Ganesh (if I may)-
    Thinking of plants as agents with their own agendas has also changed my approach to weeding. I speak to the deva of the species, explaining what I’m doing and why, and asking the plants to yield this particular piece of ground to me for the present time, so I can feed myself and my family in a way that’s less destructive to the earth, our (common) mother. I also acknowledge the good points of the species I’m removing, its luxuriant growth and the fact that it’s probably better adapted to the conditions than the tame species I’m trying to grow, and that it was here before me and probably will be after me. (I figure a bit of humility never hurts.) My aim is to acknowledge the drive (or will?) of the plants’ species even as I am removing individual members. I am hoping that this is in line with JMG’s description of the different awareness of plants. Some plants seem willing to yield for a while, some seem to pretend to be but plot a return the moment my back is turned, some just laugh at me, and some don’t seem to respond at all.

    I don’t know if my garden is any less weedy than it would otherwise be, but *I* am different than I was when I was a new gardener and saw weeds as the enemy, feeling vindictive as I tore them out, or taking out my frustrations from other areas of life in my garden work. An I-You relationship to weeds is better for me, and I hope for them as well.
    –Heather in CA

  222. It has been mentioned in the comments, that people sometimes walk into a room where ritual is performed regularly and sense a different vibe. I wonder whether it might be possible to construct a double-blind study, where there are two identical rooms, but only in one of them is constant ritual performed regularly, and people sensitive to these matters visit both rooms, attempting to sense a difference.

    It would, of course, be a little laborous to arrange, but should there actually be significant correlation there, it would certainly be an interesting and perhaps a valuable result.

    Or am I missing something here? I just thought this up, so I probably am.

  223. Another thought which occured while I was out walking, again observing trees, I noticed many of them coppiced. Having been cut shorter then they were originally meant to grow was to me similar to being castrated. How would our relationship with the rest of the world change if we fully communicated with the world around us?

    On a slightly different note, I’ve been reading “Brave New World” in which humans have been made as if by assembly line. It certainly helps one appreciate what it’d be like being treated as an object. We have most definitely treated the natural world this way. It’s quite disheartening, yet also gives another example of how it would benefit us to turn towards a more retro future, one where everything is approached in a slower, more observed and understand way, and one which more celebrated the harmony of life around us.

  224. Given how the loss of connection to the living world is the main cause of our modern woes (I’ve never really understood the you-it relationship but then I was one of those kids who spent her time at the pool swimming around scooping all the bugs out..) then presumably the return to the living world is a necessary step. So about now would be about the time or nearly, for new or old but relevant belief systems to emerge given how a large proportion of society seems to be stumbling blind not knowing how to move forward in not only their lives but their processing patterns as the current thought patterns are clearly incorrect so are failing into primitive patterns. I guess I am wondering if a belief system founded in nature with significant enough entities could create a large enough impact to heal the damage done (or atleast significantly aid). Also I wonder what can be achieved through the living world perspective, I still like lots of books, travel can be marvelous, staying alive when ill, and other perks, I have always hated the modern world and always wished to live in any other time because as a child (and still now) it seemed like ours seemed so devoid of meaning but there are some experiences that are worth having. Mostly the future is scary when you look to your children, whose gentle souls deserve nothing but the best.

  225. I, for one, would like to take Occam’s razor and throw in the middle of a very deep lake. If I never see the thing again it will be too soon.

  226. @Christopher Henningsen RE: engines

    I would explain it this way.

    As a young man (20ish), I encountered two named engines. “Hell Bitch” was a natgas powered Waukesha that required more frequent maintenance to deliver the same power of the other two twin engines on the rig. There was a very specific sequence of things one had to do to get Hell Bitch to even fire off and crank. Every mechanic sent from the central office was baffled by Hell Bitch, but those of us taught the correct way to make her operate had minimal trouble.

    Another was “Baby”, a Fairbanks-Morse 12-cyliner opposed diesel with rods 3 feet long. This engine would start first time every time, never stalled once in my memory and you could run late on maintenance and she would just keep purring. I remember an incident where the derrick of the rig was damaged due to Baby refusing to stall, actually pulling the derrick struts to bending rather than stall.

    Large engines have more hand work (humans fitting them together) than smaller engines. The expense of the parts in large engines means that the parts are often custom “tweaked” to make them fit right by human hands. When big engines go together, there are lots more people involved with knowledge of these engines.

    Large engine parts are more often made by men on large manual machines than on CNC (computer controlled) machines. In both cases (CNC & Manual) there is variance; a guy is distracted by being hungover or in the middle of dealing with a sick child; it’s Friday, and Friday things are often lower quality due to people being focused on going home; dull tooling makes parts have irregularities; somebody gets hurt or something happens in the plant and people get focused elsewhere. With big engines, they attempt to salvage the parts that are defective due to their high cost and the lead times to get the forgings in. This puts men into the decision on how to make the parts work well enough to be salvaged, and in tweaking sub-par machined parts to work correctly.

    Small engines they just toss out defective parts because the cost is small. Small engine assemblers never even look at the parts – they just bolt them up. Small engines have parts delivered in big bins, and they are often untouched by human hands until assembly. Small engines are built by a procedure manual and not by men.

    The result of this is that large engines and pumps often have operating quirks due to their not being wholly identical.

    I think if there is an “engine spirit”, it would be from men imbuing the engine with their will than any other thing. And since engines are not living things, not reproducing and not having consciousness of any kind, I view this as unlikely. More probable is that certain engines have distinct personalities due to their manufacturing quirks.

  227. We had to put my sons dog down this week. She had a terrible accident with a truck and we tried to salvage her. She was at the vet for 2 days, and they felt they could take a front leg and she would be ok. I was doubtful and thought the pain from the massive abrasions would be unbearable, but it was his dog.

    My son and his girlfriend and I went in to the vet to see her at the end of the second day. She was quiet the day before, just happy we were there. On day two, she was quiet as well. The vet said she should be unconscious with what they had given her. My son heard her whine, and she never whines. She whined a terrible whine when he said they were going to “fix” her. And she didn’t let up with the whining until my son said it would be ok and they weren’t going to hurt her.

    She whined softly and licked my son. Her heart rate dropped to almost nothing and she drifted off. He let her go, and it was to my mind very much what she willed and what was needed. We took her home and dug the grave and built her a cairn.

    My grandkids went to the farm the next day. Without prompting, they went directly through the woods to the cairn. They were very somber, both of them (4 & 5) when they came back to the house. Then the youngest asked why Roni was gone.

    Spirits? The facts are there, and they never go away. What we do with them is another matter.

  228. For any of you who are interested in a true process for communicating with Nature spirits, I would like to recommend the work of Machaelle Small Wright of Perelandra. She developed a system that is foolproof in every sense of that word. Most important, it works. Extraordinary.

  229. I’ll add to what Peter has said about the knowledge of the kauwaeraro or lower jaw. It’s an area that gives me quite a bit of hope, because the ideas are increasingly widely understood by the Pakeha population. You can talk about foundational concepts like mana, tapu, mauri and wairua with virtually anyone and while they might not see the world in that way themselves, they’ll at least understand what you’re talking about.

    None are easily translated to one to one concepts in lay English, but I imagine many here will be able to immediately identify them as analogous to concepts more familiar.

    Tapu is ‘sacredness’, though it is without any negative or positive connotation and is a question of degree. A ritual site might be tapu, but so too might a dangerous place that has been placed off limits. A person might be tapu, which could be to that person’s advantage or disadvantage depending on the circumstances.

    Mana is loosely translated to ‘authority’, and comes through a connection to a particular place or people. I recall walking through a public park surrounding a lake with a friend who was feeling a sense of anxiety about the place frequented but so many strangers and tourists. I calmed him by explaining that I had grown up in this place, living on the hill above the park, and frequently walking and that if any of the duck feeding tourists had a problem with him, it would be them leaving the place, not us. Soon after, we found ourselves subconsciously walking around a smiling old kuia surrounded by her grandkids so as not to disturb them. A little lesson in humility for me that day. Being in the presence of a highly perceptive person with greater mana than I who approved of our conduct thus allowed us an even greater freedom to break free from the usual social mores governing public behaviour and perception.

    Mauri refers to the inherent lifeforce that exists within all things. A thriving ecosystem might be ‘mauri ora (health, vitality)’ while an unengaged person ‘mauri moe’ (sleeping/resting), with significant latent potential. When someone dies, we might say “tihei mauri mate’, signifying that the spirit has been called to

    Wairua refers to the ‘spirit’ of a place, person. Not only does it refer to what we might call the transcendental ‘soul’ of a person, but also the vibe of a particular situation for example.

    Kaitiaki refers to a guardian of the mauri of a particular place, though has been extended (recently I believe) to include a guardian of a particular kaupapa or project. Taniwha are traditionally the kaitiaki of the waterbodies, as I’ve referred to above.

    As I said, it seems we’re in the midst of a fairly rapid process of collectively enhancing our knowledge and understanding of these concepts. While they obviously only scratch the surface of forming a balanced perspective of each other, and this beautiful place we find ourselves, it seems that even this has been aiding us in developing a healthier relationship between Māori and Pakeha, and us humans and the natural world more generally.

    Kia ora tātou

  230. Hi JMG,

    Another great post this week.

    Last night before sleep I was reading a book on witchcraft in which the author advises that kitchen tools should be thanked after use to ensure that they work properly, don’t cause accidents, etc. Evidently inspired by the read, this morning, while I was weighing flour to make bread, it came natural to me to thank my old and faithful scale. Now, I have no idea if a spirit inhabits my scale, but this episode made me reflect on a few things.

    From what you have explained, spirits can live across all four planes of existence, or less, so I guess my first question is: assuming there is a spirit in my scale, is it intrinsic to it, or is the scale simply inhabited by it? In the first case, the scale would be the material manifestation of an entity that lives across multiple planes, pretty much like animals and plants, so I’d exclude that that is the case (*). In the second case, there must be an entity that has chosen the scale as its abode, temporary or permanent, on the physical plane, but is not one with it.

    This may appear as a lazy thought, but in fact I think it touches on the problem of the nature of embodiment. Who or what determines the choice of the scale as the material form – or the abode – of the spirit? And are there rules that govern this, or is it based on the individual preferences (will) of the spirits themselves?

    Following this train of thoughts, more questions come to mind. Why would a spirit choose to inhabit a scale? The scale is just a mass of plastic and metal fashioned to respond to specific human needs. So, are the human needs (will) what causes the choice? Is it so that deities such as Roma, the goddess (or genius) that personified the Roman nation, came to be? Essentially evoked into existence by the egregore of its state officials, public servants and the mass of the citizens who cared about the Roman state.

    Also, in apparent contradiction with what I said above (*), when you remind us that the sky is the physical manifestation of Zeus this clearly implies that being ‘alive’ is not a prerequisite for being inhabitable by a spirit – the sky is not biologically alive like animals and plants after all. But then what is the difference with my scale? Why Zeus is the sky, while my scale is just an object inhabited by a spirit? My tentative answer to that is that the object we call scale exists as such – it is a scale – only because so designated by human needs and intellect, while the sky on the contrary is governed by the laws of Nature, which are utterly independent of human agency.

    So, is it the case that only the objects that exist independently of human will can be (or indeed are) physical manifestations of entities stretching over multiples planes? If this true for all objects, from the pebble to human beings themselves this is an integrally animistic view. Or is it that only those complex enough (cf. consciousness as an ’emerging’ property of sufficiently complex systems, such as the brain) can be ensouled? And consequently, is it the case that the rest of the objects, those that exist only because of us humans – like my scale – can only be inhabited by spirits, out of their volition or because invited to do so (consciously or otherwise) by humans, but are never the physical manifestation of a multi-planar entity?

    The more I write, the more questions emerge in my head, so I’ll leave it at that for now. But I would appreciate your thoughts. (I hope my exposition is not too confused.)

    Thank you.

  231. RPC, good gardeners tend to say the same thing about gardens, so I find this easy to believe.

    DT, you may not currently be aware of your existence before you were born, but not everyone has that limitation, you know; the comments on my post on reincarnation a while back reference many of the data sources. The universe, please note, is not required to ask your permission before deciding whether you have an afterlife…

    RPC, Western red cedars do a variant of the same thing — they don’t have the eternal leaves, but they do exude something into the soil that keeps other plants from growing. They were considered to be very powerful purificatory magic by the local First Nations, and for good reason. Do you happen to know — or do any of my other readers happen to know — whether Norway maples have a similar reputation?

    Alexander, it’s been years since I studied dragon lore; the annotated bibliography in my book Monsters might be a good place to start. As for dragons, in Druid lore they represent nwyfre, the life force — it would be as accurate to say that they *are* nwyfre. There are solar dragons and telluric dragons, winged and wingless respectively, because nwyfre is what both the solar current and the telluric current are made of.

    Xabier, Blake would have understood that at a glance. I think of some of the amazing passages in Jerusalem where he portrays the most grimy slums of eighteenth-century London as paradisal realms.

    Jonny S, have you tried asking the fish what they think?

    Peter, the lights are going out all over the place. Time to light some candles…

    CR, that’s one of the few surviving traditions of the sort I was talking about, the ones that involve stepping outside the cycles of reincarnation for a long while. The sokushinbutsu or “living Buddhas” are following the inspiration of Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon denomination of Japanese esoteric Buddhism; Kobo Daishi is basically the Merlin of Japan — there are any number of stories of his magical exploits, many of them involving his appearance long after he passed out of ordinary incarnation. (I’m told that the priests up on Mount Koya, where he founded the central monastery of the Shingon-shu, can still point you to the place where his body waits in meditation for the coming of Miroku, the next Buddha.)

    There are equivalent traditions everywhere that a certain body of lore reached. The founder of the Rosicrucians is supposed to be in the same state; as Yeats wrote —

    “All wisdom closed within his onyx eyes,
    Our Father Rosycross sleeps in his tomb.”

    Prizm, that just tells those of us who don’t propose to follow modern industrial society over the cliff what words to remember and use…

    Sng, so noted.

    Peter, fascinating. Thanks for this!

    Boysmom, hmm! That’s good to hear. Maybe more of us will get a clue.

    Oskari, I’d start by looking in the old literature of psychical research, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to see if anybody’s already done it, and if so, whether their experimental design can be improved. That aside, it sounds like something worth trying. Just remember that if you get a statistically significant effect, all the scientific materialists will shriek that you must be faking it…

    Prizm, good. Both those are useful reflections.

    Rose, I’m less interested in belief systems than I am in individuals actually getting off the couch and doing something! That one quibble aside, I won’t argue at all.

    Onething, it has its uses, but a lot of people seem to do a very good job of lobotomizing themselves with it.

    Oilman, condolences. That’s got to have been a harsh experience .

    Y. Chireau, I wish it was foolproof. I’ve seen some fools who got themselves into very deep trouble using it. That said, given some common sense, it’s a workable system.

    Adam, thank you for this — and partlcularly for the word mauri, which I’ll add to the very large collection of words for the life force in the languages of the Earth. It’s a source of some bleak amusement to me that modern Western industrial societies seem to be the only cultures in history that don’t have a convenient, constantly used word for this concept. It would serve me right, no doubt, if the word I borrowed for it in The Weird of Hali — voor — were to come into common use… 😉

  232. Late in the cycle here, not sure who’ll read this, but I’m reading Freeman House’s, Totem Salmon (1999) and finding it quite relevant to the topic at hand: Spirit of place, multi-species’ connection and mutual reliance/interdependence and the person-ness of beings and elements, of necessity recognized by humans who hope to inhabit a place for a long time.

    Though the focus is of course salmon, I’d like to share a few words regarding the spirit of technology and the ways its possible to engage:

    “Somewhere beyond our modern notions of religion and regulation but partaking of both, human engagement with salmon — and the rest of the natural world — has been marked by behavior that is respectful, participatory, and ceremonial. And it is in this way that most of the human species has behaved most of the time it has been on the planet…

    Aboriginal peoples on the Pacific Rim were quick to understand the powers of their technologies, and the dangers that their traps and weirs and nets posed to salmon. They understood the double-edged power of tools, which give humans an ecological advantage as well as the power to destroy their provision. One way that indigenous people dealt with the paradox of their tool-making skills was to sacralize and ritualize the technologies themselves…

    Such practices guaranteed the reproduction of the salmon along the length if the river and its tributaries, and insured that the people who lived upstream would also have a share of the flesh to eat. The elaborate and lengthy annual ritual must also have had the effect of animating the technology itself, of investing it with a sacred and relational life of its own: the tool is brought into the community as a working member; to treat it as inanimate, to use it sloppily or greedily, would have been the equivalent of treating a member of one’s family in a similar way.”

    (pp 13, 57, 59)

    Imagine if we related to all of our internal combustion engines in the same way. Perhaps we would have far fewer of them, and thus far fewer of their associated problems. It’s testament to how far from that possibility we are, on a large scale, that any of us who feel compelled to relate with our baking scales, computers, musical instruments, oil rigs, (etc) in such a way only admit that to a select in-group, if at all. Or we flounder about trying to cobble together appropriate ritual in the absence of such a cultural tradition.

    So yes, I’m in the camp that thinks it’s acceptable to cultivate I-you relationships with formerly-considered-inanimate …uh…subjects.

  233. Thanks JMG – it is always difficult. Yet I believe it an experience that every human should go through. The most difficult part for me was keeping my mouth shut. When we found her, after looking at her injuries, I told him we should put her down. He wasn’t able to even process that, and held her in his arms, crying all the way to the vet.

    Standing back and letting them see the facts, letting them make the decision was really hard. I restricted my comments to, “You two need to put the pain she is in and the pain she will go through trying to recover first in your minds – your emotional comfort needs to be secondary.” Then I just shut up – with difficulty.

    They did the right thing, are working through it and it will all be ok, especially the dog. She is on the wheel for the next turn at this point. Nothing but great memories from her part in our lives. And my kids all have a better understanding of how life doesn’t simply go on forever like yesterday did.

    My grandkids – that was a mind blower, seeing them get out of the truck and nearly beeline it for the cairn we had just finished. Made me wish for the simplistic acceptance that kids can show for things unexplained yet tangible.

  234. Christopher, Oilman & all:

    Your discussion about the quirks and characters of engines reminded me that as a lad I spent a lot of time at sea and learned early on that every ship, yacht and boat has “her” (never “its”!) own character practically right from the time she is built, and that this character strengthens with age. This, of course, is borne by centuries-old nautical traditions and “superstitions”. A rather humorous take on this phenomenon is found in Farley Mowatt’s book “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float”. Getting a feel of a vessel and being able to hear what she says is an amazing experience which influenced me so much at a tender age that I have never been able to believe that matter is inert and without consciousness.

  235. Heather in CA,

    Thank you for another good approach to weeding and talking with plant/plant spirits. I am making my first baby steps in this direction. It seems like I was avoiding talking directly to the spirit of the plant that was to be removed from the garden (at least partially). I’ll try that next time!

  236. Dear Oilman, as an aficionado beyond all reason of hunting dogs (I would never say ‘owner’), my deepest condolences.

    A fine thing to have made that cairn.

  237. Ron M. Oilman, al
    If as JMG suggests ‘entity’ / ‘identity’ is not necessarily dependent on our combination of neuron networks and interacting living bodies’ inter and intra-signaling, then some extra identity could ‘hang out’ with all kinds of unconscious material constructs, maybe? Ain’t personality a curiosity the way we perceive it anyway! Shape-change with continuity, might be one way of putting it.
    As the poet put it: “These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits, and are melted into air, into thin air”.
    PS Oilman & your good thinking family; I guess Roni was glad to have been found even in her pain.

  238. A poem by Norbert Mayer:

    Just now
    A rock took fright
    When it saw me
    It escaped
    By playing dead

  239. I wonder if “community” is one of those things you experience through a non-standard sense? As a child I remember experiencing a strong sense of community at certain times, for example, when our church congregation came together for a special religious observance like Easter or Christmas. I also experience it at other times, for example, when attending an Irish music session in a pub. There are other times when I experience a total absence of a sense of community, for example, when as a doctor I visit a nursing home for the elderly, as I did today. It’s not that the nursing home is bad in any objective sense: the staff are competent and caring, the place is clean, all the relevant local authority regulations are complied with and there are certificates on the wall to prove it. It’s just that there is something missing which I find very difficult to define in words. “Soul” perhaps comes somewhat close to it?

  240. @ DrQuerty who writes

    “On a more esoteric note, anthroposophical author Wolfgang Weirauch and medium Verena Holstein have been publishing almost 40 books of dialogues with a variety of nature spirits over the last twenty years or so, the first of which has been translated into English as “Nature Spirits and What They Say”. Unfortunately, it is the third one (titled “Naturgeister 3”) that includes various metal, machine, and electricity spirits and is only available in German.”

    Thank you for this reference. This intrigued me, having read about machine consciousness at a level specified in the Monroe Institute paradigm, as mentioned in a book I read some years ago, as I recall, by Maureen Caudill.

  241. Just wanting to say thank you for the article and the wonderful conversation. A community is emerging with many wise and insightful participants. Just reading the story about meeting the thunder dragon feels like a blessing. Feeling small and insignificant in comparison. And yet – I have always known everything is alive.

  242. This is rather late in the discussion, but I don’t know where else to ask this question. This is probably elementary information for many of your readers, but perhaps I am not the only person who is confused.

    For a very long time, I have always felt that I was not alone when I worked, seemingly alone, in the garden and the adjoining woods. Someone was clearly watching me, but I used to chalk it up to my imagination; now I realize that there actually is someone or, perhaps, many someones present.

    At the recommendation of one of your other commenters, I read “The Secret Life of Nature” and “The Magic of Findhorn”, then Dorothy Maclean’s “To Hear The Angels Sing”. All resonated with me and I have resolved to try to communicate with these beings whenever I feel their presence.

    However, I have just finished reading Robin Artisson’s “The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill” and am now quite confused. All of these books are based on, or include descriptions of, direct experience with another world, but the worlds described could not be more different. While the nature spirits that the Caddys and Dorothy Maclean knew at Findhorn seemed to be largely beneficent and interested in working with humans, the spirits described by Robin Artisson are much darker, more malevolent, more threatening, even frightening. I saw none of the lightness of the Findhorn spirits in his writing. My first response has been to try to find ways of reconciling these peoples’ equally valid experiences and several possibilities occurred to me. Do we attract certain spirits to ourselves and not others? Do our preconceived ideas about the unseen world dictate what sort of spirits will communicate with us? Do happy, well-adjusted people have experiences with “happy” spirits, while troubled people attract darker beings? Do humans’ experiences with the Otherworld reflect their experiences with the physical world such that as our cultural and societal norms change, so does the way we perceive the spirit world? (Do more violent societies have more violent spiritual experiences, for example?) To be honest, while Mr. Artisson’s book was very interesting, had I the choice, I would much prefer that the spirit world be more like the Findhorn beings. Is there a way of working through what I see as irreconcilable differences to come to something of an understanding? Am I thinking too analytically about all this?

  243. Beekeper, I don’t recommend taking anything Robin Artisson says seriously. If he tells you the sky is blue, in fact, you can assume otherwise. He’s earned an extremely bad reputation in the occult and Pagan communities as a troll and a windbag. The other books you’ve read are worth following, and are based on actual experience; Artisson’s can be composted.

  244. Thank you for clearing that up for me, I’m quite relieved. Will compost said book in the spring; perhaps the worms will get something good from it.

    I wish you and your family a very happy, blessed New Year.

  245. This post is a few weeks old but I thought it seemed as good a place as any to share this.

    I’m 41, and like a lot of people my age I’m starting to feel like my modern, socially-approved life fits like a shoe I’ve outgrown. I’ve only barely started to dabble in different pagan practices, just reading about them, and I’ve had 2 experiences that I think are relevant to the conversation here.

    The first is a dream I had a few nights ago (don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief). I was in an abandoned section of a city park, on a green grassy hill and lightly wooded, just outside L.A. – which is funny because I’ve only visited L.A. once and for only 3 days. I wandered into an old stone church and inside there were rows of stone benches. Seated there were living statues of all the gods I’m familiar with from different pantheons – mostly Greek gods like Athena, Zeus, and Poseidon, with some Hindu and African deities as well. In the place of a pulpit at the front of the church was an old tree, with a gnarled face just barely visible. It was inanimate, grimacing, not particularly welcoming. But the reverence I saw these figures pay it made me think I should pay attention. I should also mention that I almost never remember my dreams, maybe once a year.

    My second recent experience was about 2 months ago. Someone talked me through a guided visualization, helping me set the stage for an encounter with my higher power, nothing more specific than that. I saw myself in the redwoods outside Santa Cruz, where I used to live. Standing in the forest, a red and pink patch of fog moved into the clearing. It was turbulent, not moving like a cloud, maybe more like an octopus, with wispy tendrils shooting out and returning, flickering red and purple. I had the sense that I couldn’t -talk- to this thing, it was just pure vitality, frenzied, alien to me. The scene changed and I was high up in the air over San Francisco, where I live. My cloud was a storm now, lit up gold like a rainshower, with fierce winds that were destroying the city below. I saw Salesforce Tower collapse, and then build up again, this time as a 100 story gothic cathedral. Collapsing again, coming back up as a tower of stained glass. The cycle repeated, tower collapsing and being built back up, in forms more bizarre each time. I thought, if this is my higher power, how the heck do I do anything with it? It’s just energy and motion and the word that keeps coming back to me – frenzy. When I was describing this to my friend I had to hold back the urge to laugh uncontrollably.

    Now, I’m not normally this guy. I’m as rational as they come. But something is missing, and I’m trying to turn these disconnected intimations into something more structured.

    Beyond that, just want to say I’ve been lurking for years and your writing has been a positive influence in so many ways. I have a deep respect for what you’ve been doing here and I’m making a long-overdue donation.


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