Pagan Studies

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How I'm working with Bacteria: An example of non-anthropocentric magic

Some of my latest magical work has taken an interesting turn, where I'm exploring my connection to the microbial life in my body. This work is not entirely new, as I've done similar such work with connecting with the neurotransmitters in my body, but how it is different from my earlier work as that I've decided to, as best as possible, approach working with the bacteria from a non-anthropocentric approach. What this means is that instead of trying to apply my human perceptions and the perspectives to the experience, I'm trying to be consciously aware of such perspectives as well as open to engaging the bacteria on their own level of consciousness. Part of my inspiration for this work can be found at this post and the links included in it. But part of my inspiration is simply my desire to experiment with magic, to see what I can do and how I can explore the universe around me.

In choosing to work with the bacteria in my body, I did some research. Usually when you see the word bacteria its associated with disease, but humans actually have  bacteria in our intestines (among other places), which exist in symbiosis with us and help us to process the food we eat. Bacteria also exist on the skin, mouth, and other parts of the body, and play some role in protecting us from harmful bacteria. This symbiosis is one of mutual support, where both the human host and the bacteria benefit. What strikes me the most is how even though human beings consider themselves to just be one identity, one life, in reality we are a universe all our own, full of life that we support, often without recognizing we support it. I suspect most people would be uncomfortable recognizing that they support a wide variety of microbial life. Instead we find it more comforting to just see the body as part of a singular identity we construct in relationship to the world around us.

In my approach to connecting with the bacteria in my body, I have initially focused on connecting with the bacteria in my stomach. There are actually a variety of different types of bacteria, but I haven't focused so much on the types as just connecting with the bacteria in the gut. I could just as easily focus elsewhere, say in the mouth or on the skin (and actually I have just started doing some connection work with the bacteria on my skin), but for this article I'm just going to describe my work with the bacteria in my gut. I want to note that in doing this work, something I've consciously recognized is that to effectively engage bacteria its important that I don't categorize them with human emotions or attributes, or assume that they'll appear in a human shaped form, or even assume they'll communicate with me using language, or visuals. I figure if I make that assumption what I'm really doing is applying an anthropocentric perspective to the magical work and consequently not effectively engaging the bacteria. At the same time I also realize that at a certain point I may need to interpret what I'm experiencing in terms that are more human oriented. The key is to recognize that and be aware of it as I continue to connect with the bacteria.

I decided on the bacteria in my gut because I felt that it would be the easiest place to start making a connection. I did my connection work while in meditation, with the focus being to feel the stomach and to use that feeling to guide me to the intestines and from there to the bacteria. I used the feeling sensations as opposed to visualization, because I felt that focusing on the actual feeling of hunger or digestion, which seems to be linked to the activities of the bacteria, would be more helpful than just visualizing myself in the intestine. I've found in previous work I've done with neurotransmitters that focusing on the physical sensations has been very helpful for establishing contact and engaging the neurotransmitter or in this case bacteria on the level of its consciousness. 

When I meditated and focused on my intestines, using the feeling of hunger and digestion I did feel that I made genuine contact with the bacteria, through the activity of hunger or digestion. I discovered they were more active or conscious during digestion and less active when hungry, which I suppose makes sense because its through the act of digestion that they become more active. In my meditation, I ended up experiencing the act of digestion from their end, as well as what happens after digestion as the food is turned into waste. It was an interesting experience and one where the experience of their consciousness wasn't remotely human. Everything I experienced was felt as opposed to visualized, and there was no language, no human attributes, no nothing. Even with all that I recognize that on some level I had to translate some of what I was experiencing into something I could relate to, but by keeping myself focused on connecting with the bacteria and experiencing as best as possible what they were experiencing, I could keep myself in a place where their consciousness was honored and allowed in, in a way that wouldn't be possible if I applied an anthropocentric perspective to the work.

I've continued meditating on the bacteria in my gut, continued connecting with them each day and in that process it has made me feel more mindful of what I put into my stomach, what I feed myself and how I take care of not only myself, but also this environment I am privileged to inhabit and control that nonetheless contains so much other life which is also a part of me and keeps me alive. I'm going to eventually paint this experience (even as I'm writing about it) and I realize I am translating it, making it something that other people can relate to. Nonetheless I'm not going to try an apply a list of correspondences to the bacteria or attributes. I'm just going to describe what I experienced as I experienced it and in the process honor that experience for what it is: A chance to connect with the bacteria in my body on their level of consciousness.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments. He is also the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. Taylor lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two kids, as well as 7 cats.

Comments

  • Travis Crockett
    Travis Crockett Sunday, 02 February 2014

    This is pretty cool. I think its particularly praise worthy that you maintained the non-anthropocentric perspective. That's incredibly difficult, at least for myself, since understanding something in a non human way often gets spiritually itchy. Yet, I also think its interesting the non human perspective you explored was "lesser" (in terms of biologically sophisticated). Whenever I hear or read about expelling something outside of the humanized paradigm, its people attempting to understand "uber" humanity, or more advanced identities than our own. Again, this is very cool.

  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood Sunday, 02 February 2014

    Thanks Travis,

    It's something I'll be continuing to explore in more depth. I've found that by employing such an approach it really opens up some possibilities that wouldn't exist in the anthropocentric approach.

  • Travis Crockett
    Travis Crockett Sunday, 02 February 2014

    Pardon, *exploring not expelling.

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