In an animist perspective, place isn’t a thing you’re on or at; it’s something that you’re a part of while you’re vibing with this particular intersection of space-time. Or something like that. It’s all hippie, reality-soup stuff where we’re all part of the one thing, man.
We have many options at our disposal when it comes to getting to know a place. Learning (and understanding) through education (books, classes, etc.) is only one kind of knowing -and it has its limits. Experiential learning is another; the familiar “learning with your hands” approach.
Intuitive learning, in which inspiration is the teacher, is an under-appreciated method of knowing but it provides extremely useful information about a place and the “energies” it evokes from you. After all, what’s more important when you’re considering living somewhere than how you feel in that place?
It makes sense to spend some time getting a feel for a place if you’re planning to move there. But, what does that mean, really? Walking around a place with your eyes open will, of course, give you a pretty good lay of the land. But that isn’t knowing a place…
Looking, listening, and feeling a place in a focused, intentional, full-sensory experience, is as good as you can do in a pinch. And I just spent several days in Tulum, Mexico walking around, feeling out the place in the hopes of potentially moving there; so I have thoughts to share while it’s fresh on my mind.
It’s like that scene in The Matrix with the spoon. There is no you. I mean, there is, but whenever you need you can simply remember that you’re a part of a bigger thing. A lot of bigger things, actually; all at once.
Being-with is kind of our superpower as humans. We’re the observers in the quantum subject-object universe. We’re just God watching himself entertain us-himself…? Yeah.
The fun part of this paradox is that it allows us to access more of the cosmos than our nerves are connected to physically. We can do this by practicing enhanced self-knowing; which is something I just made-up. But what I mean is, “know thyself” extends beyond the borders of your skin and bones into the many nested frameworks of life that you occupy.
Put the bong down, you’ll say…but have you ever seen a snowflake form in slow motion?
A snowflake’s random and unique expression of form as it comes into being is one of the many beautiful, understated wonders in our universe. Think on this while entertaining my next metaphor…
Each of us is a snowflake, in a blizzard, falling on an icy landscape. Separate, in a sense, but all just water…
We exist as the crystallization of self-and-other at any given moment. In our relationality, we are both snowflake and snowstorm, weather pattern and landscape. “We” are our story being told; becoming in the world, etching the plot-lines of our unimportant dramas into the ephemeral tapestries of time and place that surround us.
Like us, a snowflake is more process than object; it is becoming / unfolding for the duration of its short flight and then it disappears into the landscape. It loses discreetness as it joins its neighbors. Many individual snowflakes may fall in a flurry, but the storm is what’s happening.
The relational nature of the universe makes us a part of the place we inhabit moment by moment -by virtue of living in that particular moment. We comprise, and are comprised by, this relationship of being-with in this moment. Being-with place enables us to glimpse its personhood through this entangled self-knowing.
You can just feel it…
Sensing Beyond The Body
To experience this, close your eyes and focus intently on the tip of your right index finger. Run it along the edge of something within reach and experience the tactile sensations of it reacting to your touch. Become the tip of that finger completely (just the tip) and move your awareness into it.
We do this naturally when feeling our way around in the dark. Our fingertips become our eyes. The eyes become irrelevant. Focus, attention, and awareness all move to our extremities. We “see” by touch.
Now use the same logic to convince yourself you can feel the environment around you. Because it’s not just around you –as in separate from you– it’s also a framework you are nested within.
Feel the ground. If you’re outdoors, feel the grass and trees around you. Move your awareness into the soil, through the mycelial nets, into the roots of the grass and trees. Feel roots of your own, growing into the “wood wide web”. Feel the wind in “your” branches, the sun on “your” leaves.
If you’re indoors, feel the firmness of the foundation beneath you, the stability of the floor, the interconnectedness of the structure, and its careful balances of forces. Beneath all this is the earth and around it the living world. Reach into it with your awareness.
You’re part of all of it so you can feel all of it. You can move your awareness to some other part of the thing you’re currently being-with. Not perfectly, of course. But you can experience moments of this awareness in quiet, meditative states.
Talking To Yourself
It’s surprisingly effective to “talk to yourself”. Talking helps to clarify our intentions. Turning our desires into words sort of makes our intent official.
Ever wondered, if we can manifest our thoughts, why they aren’t just accidentally manifesting them all of the time?
Speaking is, cosmically, an act of intention. By clarifying our desires into words we’ve coordinated both hemispheres of our brain to project those desires into the world. This is why spells (rituals) are spoken, written, or acted out (or all the above). Intentions need to be set and sent to affect reality.
Written, spoken, etc. -words mean things, magically. Words project meaning from the subjective into the collective.
Prayer, or any other form of communication with the Other (and its many manifestations), is a means of sending intentions. I think that, when we “talk to spirits”, the vocalization or internal monologue is a means of sending intentions through the shared consciousness that we cohabitate with spirits –with the Other.
So it’s both fair to call it “talking to yourself” and not because, in the cosmic sense, yourself refers to as much of the shared consciousness as is necessary for the given moment (time + place) to exist. Sometimes it’s just you in your head. Sometimes there’s a whole lot going on in there. I think it depends on what you’re focusing on / where your attention is directed.
When it comes to communicating, communing, channeling, or whatever you’d call being in dialogue with place, speaking to these spirits vocally is useful for all the reasons already mentioned. Alternatively, I think you can sit quietly and send the intention to communicate for a few minutes and achieve the same effect. The point of the exercise, either way, is intentionality.
Which is to say, don’t overthink it. Just clear your mind, clarify your thoughts, and speak to the universe like it’s alive and will respond to you…because it is and it certainly will.
Dreams, Signs & Portents
Unlike a conversation with friends, or any humans for that matter, dialogue with the more-than-human isn’t as straightforward. Messages may be sent and received in back-and-forth cadence. Or they may not.
In my limited experience, the more I’m vibing with the place, the more immediate and coherent a response I will receive. The more foreign the concepts are to me, and the more complicated they are (nuanced, etc.), the longer it takes for me to absorb and process the information, subconsciously.
In general, the shape a response may take is varied. Dreams are very common, as are omens, sacred numbers, and divinatory revelations, among other portentous experiences.
Personally, I only remember fucked up prophetic dreams, so my “spirit communication” usually takes other forms. My work with Hekate, for example, consistently produces visitations by opinionated corvids that are downright spooky.
Beyond just feeling / knowing something (clairsentience / claircognizance), omens and portents seem to be my jam. Or it’s how my spirit team prefers to communicate. Not sure which.
Fortunately, I don’t really have to sit and wait for messages. I often do give a brief pause after sending an intention to allow for immediate response but, if it doesn’t come quickly, I just move on with my day.
It’s been my consistent experience that no effort is necessary to produce this effect. I send the intention and wait for a message, or a strong sense of knowing, to make itself apparent in time.
It’s easy to communicate. The hard part has been learning to trust my intuition as valid data that can be used in decision-making.
Being-With And Knowing
As is often the way with magic, I find it best to just try to fully absorb what comes from being-with exercises without trying to process the experience in real-time. I try to remain “in the moment“, receiving any impressions, and then attempt to make sense of it later (over time).
Being-with is easy. It’s actually implied in being. We’re in and of relational stuff. Moving awareness in and out of different frameworks to glimpse the universe through other perspectives is wild, imaginative stuff, to be sure. But, animism frames the universe as a living composite consciousness and ideas as non-physical realities within that framework.
Thoughts are things. Thoughts are also animate, in a sense. Their coming into being requires the projection of their imaginal form into the universal consciousness. This is where we come in…
Thinking thoughts, dreaming dreams, and engaging in co-creative acts with those imaginal forms is what being human is all about -subject-object entanglement in all its messy glory.
In the “west” we’ve optimized our lives and our minds for reductive extrapolation based on a materialist / Cartesian system of thinking. Dialogue with place, and spirit communication in general, involves something entirely different and, potentially, dormant from the interested seeker.
Dialogue is transactional; an exchange of feeling and information. But engaging with spirits of place (and other spirits) requires adapting to a non-linear, intuitive form of communication far less tidy than the average friendly chat.
New neural pathways had to be formed and atrophied senses developed (over many months) before I could translate a conscious understanding of this dynamic into practice. Now, getting to know a place happens in the bones and in the gut –gnosis by osmosis.