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Druidry, Animism and The Meaning of Life

For many people, myself included, Druidry and Animism go hand in hand. Since the Age of Enlightenment and perhaps even further back in history (perhaps with coming of Christianity) Animism has gotten the reputation of being somehow backward, a superstitious and childish view of the world wherein everything is “alive”.  This belief is completely biased in that it is totally from a human-centric point of view;  those who believe it to be silly would say that believing a stone has a soul is absolutely ridiculous.  This point of view is a projection of our human perspective,  of what is alive and what isn’t, what is ensouled and what isn’t.  It doesn’t take into consideration differences in the metaphysical.  This perspective is often derogatory of Animism, yet it fails to actually understand just what Animism actually means, and what living with an Animistic perspective can bring to human consciousness.

In my opinion, we are in great debt to author Emma Restall Orr for exploring Animism in her two books, Living With Honour and The Wakeful World. In both, she goes into just what it means to be an Animist, putting aside the childish perspective and engaging with the concept in a very rational and yet spiritual manner.  I remember when I first saw her speak at Witchfest in Croydon many years ago, when she shouted from the stage that the moon was “just a big f*cking rock in the sky!” (which it is).  Believing that the moon is deity is perhaps a childish view of the moon, however, seeing the deity within the rock is closer to the mark, dependent upon your concept of deity.  In her two latest books, defining the often used words in Animism of soul and spirit, she shows the interconnectedness of all things in contexts of philosophy, spirituality and science.

This interconnectedness is reflected in many, if not most religions and spiritualities throughout the world.  Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing”, even founding The Order of Interbeing, a way to live your life fully aware of the interconnections of all things.  We cannot exist without each other – we are fully co-existing together.  In a piece of paper, there is the sun, the tree, the rain, the wind, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, stars, clouds, loggers, factory workers, their ancestors, the ancestors of place, the foods that they ate – the list goes on forever.  Since the beginning of time, if there ever was a beginning, we all come from the same source, if there is a source.  We are all star-stuff. 

This inter-connectedness fascinates me, and helps guide me in my Druid path every step of the way. Every decision I make is based upon this inter-connectedness – from what I had for breakfast to how I talk to people, to the mileage of my car and the rituals that I partake.  I honour all life within me and in the world, and can truly see that there can be no separation, only integration.  The wound in modern society created by the separation from the natural world is only illusion, for we can never be separate. It is harder to see when living in urban environments, for example, or living in a war torn country, but really grasping this concept and moving beyond concepts into practice and reality can help us to understand the nature of existence, and indeed, even the meaning of life.

Working with and even working past concepts of Animism, we walk through our lives with more awareness, and indeed perhaps even more grace.  We see deity within the ebola virus, in the cancer cell. We see these things are part of our selves. The cancer cell is just as much a part of my body as is any other cell. This does not mean that if I have cancer cells in my body I should just submit, and die of cancer. If I contract the ebola virus, I shouldn’t just submit to it, allowing it to live and take over and dying as a result.  Animism and Druidry is not about submission.  When we submit to the gods, we die. If I submit to the river or the sea, I drown. If I submit to anger, my life becomes anger. If I submit to the elements, I will die of exposure.

Many people often mistake humility for humiliation. Humility is seeing that we are not better than anything else – humiliation is where something makes us less than we are. There is a distinct difference between the two.  Being mindful and humble is a good way to live, as it allows us to truly see the inter-connectedness of all things without our egos getting in the way. Allowing others to humiliate ourselves goes a step outside of that, creating separation, and allowing submission.

If Animism is something that interests you, I highly recommend exploring Emma Restall Orr’s work, alongside that of Thich Nhat Hanh.  They opened the door for me into a brand new world, or rather a brand new way of living in the world fully awake and aware.

May you walk the world in wonder. X

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid and author who lives in Suffolk, UK. To find out more, please visit www.joannavanderhoeven.com.

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 Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 30 years. She has written many books, including The Path of the Hedge Witch: Simple, Natural Magic and the Art of Hedge Riding, as well as The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. Find her channels on social media at YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.


  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Wednesday, 07 January 2015

    Excellent dissertation, Joanna. I think it was Swami Kriyananda who helped me to understand Animism with his statement, "God didn't create everything; God became everything." That was based on the beautiful passage from the Gita in which Vishnu says "There is nothing else besides me, Arjuna. Everything you see is strung on me, like pearls upon a thread." And yet, even Vishnu said that you have to fight against those who would destroy Dharma.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Thursday, 08 January 2015


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