Ireland has entered the time of year where everything is in-between, liminal. It never fully reaches darkness. The sun lingers into the night, a faint phosphorescent veil that paints the landscape in a soft phthalo turquoise glow, illuminating the bones of winter plants that have since become graveyard reminders of time passing, and highlighting the small pale flowers emerging as Demeter sings her late spring song of awakening. The ouroboros of life is revealed with a poignancy that is easy to miss in our whirlwind modern world.
In these sacred spaces where rules bend so that time slows to collide with the transitional matter of growth and decay, creating foreign and haunting images, it’s easy to believe that spirits, Gods, sentience beyond the human mind, are possible, tangible, undeniable.
As I’ve become ever more vocal about animism, messages have poured into my Twitter account with a resounding question: “Do you really think spirits and Gods and non-human intelligences are real?”
This is often followed up with admissions of struggles, cynicism, and doubt. And who can deny this is not a regular part of any path, believer and denier alike? Even in the Bible there are countless parables of disciples, prophets, and everyday citizens wrangling with doubt in countless circumstances ranging from being in an impossibly hard situation to being presented point-blank with miraculous acts.
I think doubt is the wellspring of curiosity. So I welcome questions of doubt, because part of the gift of our human mind is our critical thought. However, I hope to encourage those who read to also embrace different ways of knowing. To trust what is experiential, even if it is only something they have personally experienced alone with no other confirmation beyond themselves. To trust what comes in dreams and the signs that are waiting for just a moment of our attention if we can peel ourselves away from our modern lives overflowing with distractions that fill our time at the speed of light in rapid unending succession.
With that, I’ll answer the question about whether I believe spirits, Gods, and non-human intelligence are real. To make this short: yes.
We’ve just made it much harder than necessary to have a relationship with the non-human world.
The first hurdle in believing in spirits, Gods, and non-human sentience is accepting that we are not the pinnacle of intelligence and perception, and that our understanding of things is much more incomplete and lacking in nuance and depth than our human world is generally willing to accept. I find this to be both the easiest and hardest step in the process.
Easiest because there is evidence of this everywhere–from the fact we are using biomimicry (like so many birds, apes, and insects) to make a smarter engineered world, to the reality that our “stewardship” (i.e. selfish control and exploitation) of the earth has led to it’s apocalyptic state, to the fact that we’re the only species to indiscriminately hunt and kill for “fun” as if life and resources were unlimited and there to be our playthings, to the fact that we are the only species who will start an unprovoked violent genocidal war that could possibly annihilate all life, regardless of what side you’re on.
Humans like to think they’re the smartest and most “civilized” entity in the room, but evidence points to that being patently false.
It’s also the hardest, because especially modern Western society functions on an implicit and ingrained philosophical backbone of dominion rather than community with the non-human world. We’re told from a very young age that humans are the only sentient and intelligent beings on earth, and that our way of perception is the only salient, social, and conscious form of perception. Thankfully this is becoming easier to disprove as time goes on.
Trees have families, form symbiotic communities with one another and neighboring plants and fungi, watch out for one another and send chemical signals to help each other defend against parasitic insects and overgrazing herbivores and omnivores, communicate through the (imperceptible to human ears) sounds of their roots moving, mourn when a family member dies by shedding all their leaves or needles and trying to send nutrients to the stump of a chopped tree. Plants have shown to become connected to us in some untraceable way so that when we’ve bonded with a plant their stress indicators rise with ours–even if we’re at a great distance.
Trees have mastered the art of balance and exist in deep time, which is why despite having every ability to rapidly form defense mechanisms that could protect them from human devastation (and even harm us), 99% of trees are still in communion with human life and willingly exist in close proximity to us. They give and give and give without asking for very much in return. So much wiser, so much more sustainable and long-viewed than the power-obsessed homo-sapiens, I think you can agree.
Do we speak the language of plants? Not anymore, but we once did. And we can still relearn and remember how. (We’ll come back to this a little later.)
But the point is… there are clear signs of sentience, intelligence, consciousness beyond just what humans perceive and experience all around us. And there are ways for us to bridge into those alternative views (which, again, I’ll come back to). It used to be as natural as breathing to us, every indigenous culture in communication and balance with the very living intelligent world around them.
It’s our birth right to have a deep, nurturing, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the world both human and non-human, both seen and unseen, but it depends on us humbling our very grandiose view of humanity itself.
The second hurdle to belief in spirits, Gods, and non-human intelligence is our expectations and understandings of these non-human entities.
I’m always torn in sharing my perspective on this topic because it’s not clean cut.
On the one hand, we are having a spiritual resurgence that our ancestors can only dream of. Modalities of belief that were marginalized, persecuted, and driven into hiding are once again emerging with more training and information available than ever before. It’s a renaissance of the occult (which simply means hidden), and I’m grateful every day that popular interest built to a point of monetarily supporting the work of those who write the books, translate old texts, reconstruct old practices, and help us to understand the anthropological cultural beliefs of these ancient ways of being.
And yet, the rising popularity of these old ways of belief means that much of it is perverted by spiritual materialism, clout chasing, enormous egos and false gurus, and straight up malefic misinformation. As someone who grew up watching the corruption inside of every single church my family became a part of, and lived with the hypocrisy of an abusive household that put on a proper face of the Abrahamic God when being missionaries to non-believers, this part of our spiritual cultural renaissance makes me sick and angry.
Part of the misinformation is the constant showmanship and drive to one-up each other in the occult communities with revelatory experiences. People who claim to have spiritual peak experiences on a hyper-regular basis are always suspect in my book.
Anyone who genuinely does this work will tell you that most of the praxis is silent, that spiritual peak experiences are rare.
Yet, if you are part of the current zeitgeist you will easily get the impression that *if* the spirits, Gods, and non-human intelligence are truly real that they show up in consistently fantastical ways. As if every moment of practice is akin to Saul riding his horse on the road to Damascus and being blinded by an angel of God to be given a new name and purpose.
So let me be entirely frank: that doesn’t happen every single time you’re in praxis with non-human entities. In fact, it rarely happens.
The people of today lust after a reality that is not this one. People are so displeased with the world around us that we would rather sink into an abyss of escapism. This is why so many so-called “spiritual seekers” have to announce their every experience to the world, blanketed in ever more fantastical heights and descriptions. It’s why they seek to “spin out of the grid”, to stop incarnating (if you believe in multiple lives), to reach the 5D or beyond, to go to heaven. This is also why our world is the way it is. We are either exploiting things through a dominion mindset, or we are so hellbent on escaping that we shirk the responsibility of being good stewards of our world. And then we call ourselves “spiritual” and “enlightened”.
Put these people into very real human conflict, disadvantage, or bad luck: they fall apart, they’ll deny the reality of a situation and sink deeper into escapism, or they’ll blame everyone and everything around them while refusing any responsibility for their lot in life.
You would think that those who have such frequent profound experiences with the non-human would easily be aided in their times of need by those same non-human companions. This is the proof in the pudding, in my book.
Belief that only reaches for what feels good and blows your mind is not truly belief or growth. Its delusional escapism.
These are the same people who like to twist the allegory of myth to suit their agenda, or take myth and lore literally (I’ve seen this in both the polytheistic and extreme Christian worlds alike).
So we come to expect spirits, Gods, and non-human entities to either act in hyper-literal ways, or in fantastical demonstrations on an aggressively regular basis. Either way, this is setting up anyone who genuinely seeks that deep relationship with the world both human and non-human, both seen and unseen, to be deeply disappointed.
Spirits, Gods, non-human intelligences are subtle, and NON-HUMAN. Which means the attempts we make to explain and describe them will never be accurate, because all we have in our arsenal are human words and pictures. Sometimes we come close with art and music and poetry. It’s still not quite enough. We must grow comfortable with this ambiguity, being open to something that will never fully or accurately be defined because of its largesse and foreignness to our existence.
Beware anyone with easy answers. The world both seen and unseen, human and non-human is inherently paradoxical. Paradox is the road to the wise fool (and any wise person will gladly embrace that they are also the joyous fool).
Western minds are especially uncomfortable with ambiguity. Yet, these non-human entities will not be easily understandable, will rarely communicate directly in ways that are native to us (because they ARE NOT us), and can put us through the trial of proving ourselves before giving a glimpse of their true nature.
And this is what actually makes this work profound: it’s work. But today’s world is looking for a quick fix and functions in extremes. Beware anyone who says it’s EITHER science or magical thinking, it’s either logic or intuition–because they are all connected in a continuum. They intertwine like lovers, feeding into each other.
The non-human world seeks out connection with those who are open to stillness, patience, deep time, and finding that the mundane is sacred–in all it’s iterations.
The wisest people I’ve met, the ones with real contact with something outside of the sphere of publicly accepted intelligence and life, are deeply grounded in this world. They have a small handful of fantastical spiritual peak experiences, but find daily enchantment and spiritual profundity in the rainfall, a plot of wisdom from the melting of sugar in their coffee every morning, the profundity of a flower budding, bursting, sexing, decaying.
“We pray not for new heaven or earth, but to be quiet in heart and clear in eye. What we need is here.”– Wendell Berry, Wild Geese
Which leads me to the third hurdle to belief in spirits, Gods, and non-human intelligence: our attentiveness to the world around us.
Because we are looking for escapist fantasies of extreme expression of the divine, we miss how utterly divine, amazing, wise our very “mundane” world is.
Spiritual, magical, and the mundane are a continuum. Our non-human companions act through the devices of our world to speak with us, give us signs and blessings, teach us. It’s for the purpose of living a deeper, more satisfying, and more connected life that they work through the world and allow us to experience the divine through completely accessible means… if we’re paying attention.
“My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of life has little to do with it’s quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention…
The reward for attention is always healing. It may begin as the healing of a particular pain–the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: that pain that we are, as Rilke phrases it, ‘unutterably alone.’ More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.”– Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Our non-human companions are waiting for us to wake up from the zombie state of our modern world, even for just 15 minutes in our daily lives. Spending time away from your devices, away from technology, away from the white noise of modern life and endless consumption, is how you awaken to the signs and experiences of a world bigger than human intelligence.
“…far are we from the forests of our rest
Where the wolf nature of maternal breast
Fed us with strong brown milk
Yet our still souls keep memories of that time
In Sylvan wildernesses, our soul’s prime
Of wisdom, forests that were gods’ abode.”-Edith Sitwell, Elegy of Dead Fashion
It also requires that we stop making our spirituality a never-ending narcissistic quest to better ourselves (that’s sooo far from the totality or purpose of spirituality). We make everything about ourselves. But relationships do not thrive when all you do is take take take. And if that’s all you’re capable of, then you’ll always find genuine reciprocal relationship with the world both seen and unseen to be a difficult, maybe even an impossible, task.
We can begin with what makes us comfortable and then move into those liminal places of ambiguity where non-human entities thrive and frolic, waiting for us to play. An excerpt from one of my lessons in The Eternal Flame candle magic class, as a gift to you on your journey to trying this:
“When you work with an herb, rather than with its Plant Spirit, the herb is a tool. When you work with a Plant Spirit, the herb is a sacred text that you can read to learn about the Spirit.” -Harold Roth, the Witching Herbs
First, how do you know which plant to start a relationship with? I’d start with the plant you’re most attracted to. If you can, try to stick to a plant that’s local to you (exotic plants are not grown in their natural conditions, and this is honestly pretty heartbreaking if you know how social these creatures are; it’s also typically horrible for the environment). If nothing strikes you yet, you can look at some of the herbs I provide in the Magical Herbarium sections of this lesson.
Where I would begin in any relationship, is getting to know the person I’m relating to. Since plants do not speak with human words, a good place to start is to learn about the plant from a book or a good old fashioned google search. This will come in handy later, when you’re thinking about which plant to use in a candle spell. Much about a plant can be revealed in learning about how it grows, where it grows, what conditions it needs to grow, what season it grows in, if it repels pests or attracts grazing herbivores, and how we use it for herbal medicine. Taking a few notes about the plant can go a long way when you need to come up with your own correspondences later.
Something that’s a little more fun, is to look up plant lore. It’s very gratifying to see how your ancestors once related to a plant. For example, my Scottish ancestry believed that after October 11 blackberries were cursed by the devil and should therefore not be harvested after that point. In fact, as a whole, they believed that blackberries were suspicious (yet delicious) plants of the fae and the devil, that should be left alone and only harvested under specific conditions. And they often used this plant for warding, breaking spells/curses/hexes, and for doing spells/curses/hexes. Blackberries had several names to various Northern European cultures, including scaldhead, blackbides, and brymble.
Okay so now we understand a bit about the plant, now it’s time to get in contact with it. If you can, go to a place where the plant grows naturally and wild. Take a camera, some sort of divination device like a tarot deck or pendulum, a bag that you can put trash into, and a small offering of honey, wine, salt, and/or cream. Some people take other herbs such as tobacco or sage to suffumigate (smoke) around the plant; I do not recommend this as it’s easy to start a fire and it’s also on the edge of appropriating other cultural customs.
Start by picking up any trash you see around the area—this is extremely respectful and pleasing to the land and plant spirits. Then sit down with the plant, and give the land and the plant your offerings. I talk to them gently and respectfully and just sit with the offering for a moment. I don’t pour offerings directly on roots, but generally nearby. And then I ask permission to be in that space with the plant, and to form a magical relationship with that plant.
If no omens present themselves (such as certain insects, birds, animals, a current of wind that causes the plant to gently caress me in some way), I may take out a tarot deck and ask what the outcome of forming that relationship will be for both me and the plant.
I am happy to accept neutral cards and positive cards. If I get a challenging card (such as the devil or the tower), I may ask for a clarifying card. Is this a challenging relationship that will help me grow? Or does this plant just NOT want to be in relationship with me?
That’s right, plant spirits have agency too! And not every plant spirit wants to be in a magical relationship with you. Just like you don’t want to be friends with every person you meet!
If it’s clear the plant does not want to be in a relationship with me, I’ll thank them for their time and for letting me communicate with them, and I’ll leave. Then I might start the process again until I can find a plant to be in relationship with who consents to being my companion.
If the plant consents to being your companion, you can then connect with the plant on the astral plane, as Damien taught you last week.
Afterwards, when you’re with the plant note how it grows, if it is growing beside other plants, if you notice other insects or bugs. What kind of soil is it in? If you have some time, watch the plant as the sun moves. Is the plant in shade? Does it try to follow the sun? Do the flowers close themselves when it’s no longer sunny? If you are hidden or far enough away from the plant, do you see birds or animals coming to eat the plant? Or does the plant seem to warn them off in some way?
The way a plant grows, moves, and interacts with the world around it IS THE WAY IT COMMUNICATES. It’s non-verbal communication, and something that we as humans used to pay super close attention to. This tells us about the nature of the plant, before we’ve asked them for something. It’s an action of respect to let them communicate in the way that comes most easily for them.
Take photos (or if you’re artistic you can take some sketches), make some notes. And then walk away for the day. Do this for a few times, to build that reciprocal relationship. We always give to the spirits we are starting a relationship with, first. We always show gratitude and respect to the spirits we are starting a relationship with, first.
Once you’ve established that relationship, you can then ask the plant if you can respectfully (and sustainably) harvest some of it’s parts for a magical working. Same steps as above, clean up trash, give an offering, sit and be present with the plant, then ask the plant and divine the outcome. In this case, the outcome card should be indicative of how the magical working will go. For example, if you want abundance there should be cards of abundance like the Sun, 7 of pentacles, etc.
ALWAYS make sure you know how to harvest a plant safely—wear gardening gloves and get some good quality secateurs and a canvas bag (plastic will cause the plant to wilt rapidly). And ALWAYS make sure the plant is not endangered or illegal to harvest. There are plenty of plant companions you can connect with, so please choose a plant companion who is not threatened from extinction in your area.-Amaya Rourke, The Eternal Flame
Again, this is WORK. But relationships require WORK. Praxis is DOING and it is through the repetitive, deeply meditative doing that we have spiritual revelation. It’s how the spirits, Gods, and non-human speak to us and through us. It’s how we become vessels for the divine that others then experience and are changed by. If we are to “improve” ourselves, let us focus on how we give back to our world, how we attend to our non-human companions that drives a quiet gradual change and reveals true wisdom on our fool’s path.
Speaking of… Lastly, we struggle with believing spirits, Gods, and non-human intelligences are real, because we expect them to do the work we do not want to do. We expect that when we start that relationship, somehow we become less responsible for our way in the world. That they will pick up our slack and eddy us to our desires.
If someone treated you that way, how would you respond? You’d be livid, right? Or at the very least, you’d put distance between yourself and that person.
The world is not our vending machine to acquire our every last desire regardless of circumstances and consequences. Relationships with the non-human world can ease the way, but it will rarely supersede the reality you live in. If anything, these relationships should ENHANCE and SUPPORT the work you need to do in this life and in being a responsible steward in this lifetime.
“Or is fortune a wheel? In early tarots, such as the fifteenth century Visconti deck, Fortuna is blindfolded, as is Cupid on card VI. Love and fortune, pairs in madness.
From ancient times, Fortuna was associated with Anagke, Necessity.
Fortuitous, fors, fort.
But power is always chancy. The helping spirits may not come, they may be busy–they may be playing their own bone game, and they may not want to interrupt it just to help some mortal shaman.
The work is finding lost objects, or a lost shadow, discerning the cause of an illness, or a streak of bad luck.
‘Without power, you cannot do anything out of the ordinary. With power you can do anything. This power is the same thing as luck. The primitive conception of luck is not at all the same as ours. For us, luck is fortuitousness. For them it is the highest expression of the energy back of life.’ – Jaime Du Angelo
Alexander went to Delphi before beginning his conquests of the East. The Oracle was closed, there being only a few days each month when the Pythoness did consultations. Alexander pressed his case several times, but the priestess was firm. Alexander grabbed her by her hair and began dragging her down the stairs to Adytum. The Pythoness agreed to perform a consultation and added, ‘Alexander, you are invincible.’ Alexander immediately let go of her, thanked her for the consultation, and departed…
Chinese teh or te, ‘virtue’, also means ‘power’ in the sense of accumulated luck. Thunder and wind; the image of DURATION.
‘If for example I consult the tortoise and get a favourable response, that is my te. It is my potential good luck. But it remains like an uncashed cheque unless I take the right steps to convert it into a fu, a material blessing. Like an uncashed cheque, a te is a dangerous thing to leave about. It may fall into other hands, be put into someone elses’ account.’ -Arthur Waley, The Book of Changes
Written or scratched onto a tortoise shell, or nailed to a tree. When an interpretation is accepted, it becomes a power loose in the world. But likewise an interpretation may be deflected, may be reinterpreted. Quick wit and a ready response. Alexander in Persia before the sweating statue of Orpheus. The power of Thoth. Or thought.
The Athenians locked their state prophecies away in a temple, lest their enemies see them.”-Dale Pendell, The Language of Birds
Connection with the world both human and non-human, both seen and unseen, takes our persistent, devoted, humble work. It requires our divine attentiveness to the grand gift of a world we’ve been privileged to live and be in relation with. We must become conscious initiators, builders, and stewards of relationship if we want the profound experience of non-human beings and entities.
How they speak to us will vary wildly, just as your relationship with someone who is a mutual friend will differ from mine. To expect them to act in accordance with how someone else has (or has only claimed) to experience it, is to shut the door on the gift waiting for you–unique, precious, and private to you.
In return they gift us a daily life of enchantment that generates within us emotional and spiritual fortitude despite the winds of circumstance swirling unpredictably, leading to wisdom, often lending some of their non-human abilities to aid our needs and desires in exchange for our loving and reciprocal relationship. A deep relationship will lead you to sync up with the tides of time and space, where things seem to constantly unfold with uncanny ease and favorability, even when other parts of life are difficult.
Why? I’m not sure. But that’s okay. It’s not my job to know everything–and neither is it yours. Knowledge is so much more than being able to neatly explain something.
Sometimes it’s just a feeling that runs up your spine as you pass a phantom lot; moonlight hitting a patch of speedwell in the liminal twilight of the almost-but-not-quite-Summer-y non-night in the Northern lands of Ireland; or seeing how tea leaves fall at the bottom of your cup when you take a moment to breathe and be present.
The spirits, Gods, and non-human exist in those undefinable, wild, unexplainable places. And they’ll connect with you, if you connect with them first. Give into your own paradoxical wild nature, trust your instincts, give and see what unfolds.
Yes, they’re real. And yes they’re waiting, always waiting, for the ambrosia of your humble, divine attention.