Do our tools have spirits?

Inspired by a comment @Garnet left on another post, I wanted to talk about animism and the spirits within our tools! Now of course, as with anything I post like this, everything included here is based on my specific worldview and beliefs.

What is Animism?

Put simply, animism is the belief that everything we encounter, both alive and not, animate and inanimate, have the potential for spirit. Animism isn’t a religion or something that has a core set of beliefs. Instead, it is a way of viewing the world around us as being alive, full of energy and spirit.

There is a quote from a book I’m reading called Braiding Sweetgrass that really sums up the animistic worldview. I’ve included it here.

To whom does our language extend the grammar of animacy? Naturally, plants and animals are animate, but as I learn, I am discovering that the Potawatomi understanding of what it means to be animate diverges from the list of attributes of living beings we all learned in Biology 101. In Potawatomi 101, rocks are animate, as are mountains and water and fire and places. Beings that are imbued with spirit, our sacred medicines, our songs, drums, and even stories, are all animate. The list of the inanimate seems to be smaller, filled with objects that are made by people. Of an inanimate being, like a table, we say, “What is it?” And we answer Dopwen yewe. Table it is. But of apple, we must say, “Who is that being?” And reply Mshimin yawe. Apple that being is.

Braiding Sweetgrass - The Grammar of Animacy by Robin Wall Kimmerer

When I think of animism and the English language, it is no wonder that we might have trouble with animism. We are taught that everything besides people and animals are “it” rather than “they”. The tree? It is tall. The river? It is long and winding. Honestly, shifting my language from “it” to “they” has helped shape my view of the world, even though I know in my heart that everything has spirit, or at least the potential for spirit.

How does this relate to our tools?

Though the original comment that inspired this post was about a tarot deck, I want to extend the idea of animism to the rest of our tools as well. Let’s talk about the spirit of a tarot deck, first.

What makes a tarot deck? Really, what is it made from? Let’s list the “ingredients” of a deck of tarot cards as if we were to make them ourselves.

:star: Paper, of course. We have to have something to print the images on
:star: Ink for printing, or if you’re drawing your own cards, whatever artistic medium used
:star: The work, of course, because every artist puts a little bit of themselves into their creations

Looking at the basic ingredients here, everything comes from nature! How many trees do you think it takes to make your tarot deck? That tree had a life. What about the ink? Where does that come from? And the work? Of course the artist pours a little bit of themselves into their work, thus lending energy to the deck itself.

I often find myself drawn to different decks for different reasons. This could be the imagery or it could also be the spirit of the deck trying to get my attention. Some of my decks also have an attitude while others are more gentle.

Now we can look to the rest of our tools, too. What about a wand? Where did it come from? Did you forage it yourself from a living tree? Did you find it abandoned on the ground, or maybe washed up on the beach? If you foraged it from a live tree, did that tree extend their spirit to you? If it washed up, is it dead or does it contain the spirit of the sea?

How do you know if your object has a spirit?

I’ll be honest, not every tool or object you encounter will have spirit. That’s just the way of life, honestly. Sometimes things are alive and sometimes the spirit has long abandoned its physical form. But how can you tell? Well, if you’ve got a good foundation in energy work and focus, you’re covered! I can usually tell if an object has spirit within a few minutes of focusing, but sometimes it isn’t that easy. Here is a basic exercise for sensing the energy of an object.

Also, I realize I have used the words energy and spirit interchangeably in this post and I have done so on purpose. In this respect, an object having its own energy is the spirit of that object! If an object doesn’t have any energy, it will feel hollow and empty. Thus, there is no spirit in that object. Anyway, on to the exercise!

Sensing the Spirit of an Object

:star: Sit down in a comfortable place with the object in your hand or near you.
:star: Take a few moments to ground your energy and center yourself.
:star: While breathing deeply and mindfully, hold the object in your hands (or hold your hands over the object) and extend your psychic senses to the object.
:star: Feel the object out with your own energy. What can you feel? Does it get warm? Cold? Is there resistance? What do you see in your mind’s eye?
:star: If you don’t feel anything or see anything at all, then the object might just be empty! If you’re unsure, just keep trying with different objects.

This is something that takes practice, and I hope I explained my little process there well enough.

So, do you view the world through an animistic lens? Do your tools have spirits? Or are they simply objects you’ve consecrated and made sacred?

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I never thought of that. I agree that the concept of animism is still hard to grasp and it certainly must have something to do with our language and patterns of thinking. I think animism adds a whole other layer to the practice and experience of Magic.

I can see myself thinking in terms of “he”, “she”, “they” when it comes to something that is close to me, especially my musical instruments. I know that in English it’s common to use “she, her” for ships, cars, and some other things/entities.

I was curious about why that is so I just did some research. Apparently part of the reason that ships are traditionally a she, are the figureheads.

Figureheads embodied the spirit of the vessel, offering the crew protection from harsh seas and safeguarding their homeward journeys. As such, they were often lovingly cared for by the crew. The superstitions of seamen meant that the figurehead held great significance to those on board and they would go to great lengths to protect it.

From Royal Museums Greenwich. (It also says that they weren’t always women.)

Thanks for the recommendation (again!) I’m getting the audiobook now. I’m interested in listening to it being read by herself.

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Sweet, Megan. What a great subject!
The essence of tools having spirits? Why not. How many times have you been walking and a stone caught your eye. You pick it up and say,
“Aren’t you a pretty thing.” A stone is an inanimate object, neuter, or is it?
You picked up the stone - acknowledgement of it being.
You caressed the stone as -affection, giving it feelings.
You spoke to it. Thereby assigning it a reality, a sentience, if you would.
And some folks named their stones, crystals, (remember the Pet Rocks)etc.
The same thing can be done with plants. Everything has a vibration, a power. We do not see or feel, but it is there.
Now sounds are interesting.
When you take into account that modern day medicine uses sound frequencies like ultrasound for healing, and the ancient Egyptians used sound for healing over 3000 years ago… hmmm.
In the Red Pyramid quartz-granite slabs found in some chambers were not meant as a sarcophagus but were meant for people to lie in as they absorbed the healing power of the particular frequency that the chamber resonated.
And on an atomic level: everything in existence is made up of different sound frequencies, It becomes more and more obvious that sound therapy can be a wonderful, natural, therapeutic tool.
An interesting concept, isn’t it? And certainly food for thought.
Have you ever wondered, why we chant or why the Native Americans sang during their holy ceremonies.
Thanks for bringing it up
Garnet
https://naturalsynergysolution.net/sound-healing-pyramids-of-egypt/

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Compared to the replies from the other, I feel like this will sound a bit childish. Growing up I had a book called the velvetine rabbit, the premise of the story is if you care about an object enough, for long enough it can “become real”. In the story a boy has a stuffed rabbit he cares for deeply and by the end of the rabbit ends up being transformed in a living rabbit.

But I think if you put energy into something, or care about it’s well-being, in this case making sure you are careful and respectful with your tools, repairing them if they break, etc.
Why would they not eventually become more than just an object to you?

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Ohhhh what a great topic! :star_struck: When I think of animism, the first thing that comes to mind is Shinto- the polytheistic practice that is as much spiritual as it is a religion (and some may argue that it is more one than the other) in Japan.

When I lived in Japan, I was really fascinated by all of the Shinto shrines- sometimes separate, but oftentimes side by side with Buddhist temples. It seemed like everything can have a spirit and be honored in Shinto- from the deities (called kami) to important landmarks (like Mt. Fuji :mount_fuji:) to even household items- there is a yokai spirit that is literally a broom :broom: and one for cats who live so long they become sacred :black_cat: Also: worst yokai ever imo is this one- the “eye butthole” yokai :woman_facepalming:

It may seem strange to those who grew up with monotheistic/non-animistic beliefs (and no one can argue that some of the yokai spirits don’t sound absolutely wild :crazy_face: ) but what I found most interesting about it, was how these animastic ideas that everything has a spirit contributes to Japanese hospitality and respect. If everything has a spirit, then it makes sense that you need to treat everything mindfully and respectfully- from the local shrine, to the woods, to your kitchen table.

I saw these beliefs in many of my students- between all my classes at two schools, they were, as a whole, the most respectful and well-behaved group of kids I’d ever encountered.

I didn’t even think about this- this is a great point! Giving inanimate objects a gender is something I’ve had to wrangle my head around now that I’m learning Polish- but trickiness aside, it really does give the things around us a new layer of presence and identity :+1:

The Velveteen Rabbit was one of my favorite stories growing up- I had a plush rabbit and the simplified version of the story was hanging in a picture frame outside my room :rabbit2: :two_hearts:

Thanks for sharing this here, Torista- I love the idea that through giving love to things, we can give them a life of their own :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


Awesome topic, @MeganB- thanks so much for opening up this discussion! :heart:

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@Francisco Yes! Certain things that are close to me will get those pronouns, but I find it more difficult to think of things outside of my “belongings” as “she/he/they” and it’s very fascinating! I knew about the figureheads on ships, but I didn’t know that they weren’t always women! And I’m glad to know you’re getting the audiobook of Braiding Sweetgrass :pray:t3: I hope you love it as much as I do!

@Garnet Thanks for sharing that information about the pyramid! I didn’t know that :small_red_triangle: :partying_face: It’s certainly an interesting concept, one that I will admit I don’t know much about. Looks like I have more digging to do!

@Torista That’s not childish at all! I remember reading The Velveteen Rabbit as a child and you just reminded me of how much I love it :rabbit: What you’re describing is something I view as a bit different than animism, but still within the scope! As witches, we can create energetic beings or ties to objects. I’ve created wards this way and others create things like servitors and egregores to act on their behalf!

Yes!! This is why I’ve been trying to switch up my language! Because I feel these things deeply yet my language doesn’t reflect that. When my language about objects slips back into possessions, it damages my own belief because my brain goes oh, so they’re just objects now? and it’s very hard to describe :laughing:


Thanks for sharing your thoughts everyone! Always a pleasure to read :pray:t3:

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This really helps give insight on animism. I love how you explained the way a deck has an attitude or is gentle.
I have always thought about living things. In third grade, my teacher brought the class outside to one of my favorite trees (because I could see it from my desk perfectly). She explained how the tree is alive and has feelings. She mentioned that if you tore the bark off, it hurts the tree. That’s when the classes attention sparked.
This teacher got me interested in great topics at a young age. I still talk with her! She and her kids used to go to my birthday parties. Now her grandkids go to my kids birthday parties and my kids to theirs. :relaxed: But I’m off topic 🤦

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I’ve explained something similar to my daughter! I love that your teacher got you interested in those topics.

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