Fireworks from an Animist Perspective
In the US, the Fourth of July is a time to celebrate with loud cracks, bangs, and fire. Yet this is no time of celebration for many people. Animism is a worldview that holds to the belief that all things in nature hold their own unique spirits and personalities. The Romans believed in the genius of nature, or the plural genii, the idea that living entities inhabited not only the plants and animals that surrounded them, but even the stones of houses and roads as well. This ancient system of belief has permeated nearly every tradition the world has offered, and is still a major part of many cultural identities today. Even here in the Ozarks, animism lies at the heart of our folkways. This connection to the land calls for us to become active participants in the cycles of nature and to become stewards alongside countless invisible denizens.
I remember one trip I took collecting folkways and healing remedies. As I talked with an old, self-proclaimed and proud witch-woman the subject of land spirits quickly became the subject of our conversation. She was wise to the old traditions hidden behind Christianity and a modern, Western worldview. She still gave offerings of water, cornmeal, and tobacco smoke to trees before cutting, bushes before trimming, and to all of the yarbs she collected in the hills and forests. I asked how she viewed others in her community who didn't show the same respect, and she replied, "Most folks just don't know...and when I tell them about the curses of nature they laugh at me." These same individuals often wonder why their wells dry up, why game leave their lands, and why at certain times of the year, the soft voice of nature falls silent.
I'm sitting outside in my wooded yard, watching nature fall silent once more, as loud fireworks sound around me. Birds rush into hiding. Rabbits, with wide, frightened gazes run to bury themselves underground. The spirits of the trees themselves shake and quiver against these foreign sounds. I wonder to myself what curses we bring upon our own heads by singeing leaves and grass. I wonder what angry ghosts we summon with these explosions.
Apart from just the natural world, we have to look to those in our own communities affected by this so-called "holiday." Those with PTSD, huddled in the dark with noise-cancelling headphones, desperately pulling their spirits back into their own bodies, protecting themselves from being transported back to the battlefield. An innocent form of fun indeed.
This of course, is just one person's opinion. Many will laugh at me as well.
In my work as a spiritual healer and folk magician I constantly face the effects of a broken equilibrium with the natural world. On one trip, I visited a home and family terrorized by angry spiritual forces. A house, which at one time thrived, was now plagued with power outages and electrical malfunctions unexplainable to the local electricians. Nighttime was characterized by loud banging noises throughout the house and footsteps without bodies. Sickness was a regular feature for the otherwise healthy family. As soon as I walked onto the land, I sensed a darkness around the place that went unnoticed to most. The house itself seemed to be melting back into the earth. I asked my client what changes they'd made to the land since moving in almost two years before. He told me that they immediately cleared several big trees around the land to open up space for sunlight to reach their gardens. They'd also plugged up an old spring on the back of their lot to prevent standing water in a field nearby. I asked if they had had a big fireworks display recently, as the Fourth of July was only about a week before, and of course they had. I could still see the trash left behind across the lot, yet to be cleaned up.
After my initial assessment I gave them my humble opinion. The trees they removed were two large, healthy oaks, probably at least fifty years old each, and an ancient American holly whose trunk was one of the biggest I'd seen at about three feet in diameter. I told them to make offerings of water and tobacco to the spirits of the trees they removed and to apologize. This was the first odd look I got from my client. The second came when I suggested digging the spring open again. Based on the landscape, I could tell that in years past the spring likely ran into a creek bed nearby, which was now dry. The same amount of work put into blocking up the spring could be focused instead on restoring a trench to the dry creek, likely blocked off through cultivating the fields at some point years ago, or by a shift in the land from flooding. And I suggested apologizing to the residents of the land for the fireworks.
I checked back in with my client a few weeks later to see what they had done. Despite his initial disbelief, the man told me they'd followed my instructions with the trees, and had even planted some more in other spots around the lot to replace the ones they cut. They were also working on cleaning out the spring. He said the house felt "lighter" somehow and he couldn't quite explain it. They even went a step farther and set out some food, tobacco, and beer to the spirits of the house in an effort to gain some peace and quiet. The nighttime escapades stopped almost immediately. Within a few months the house had been restored and the family were healing from the whole ordeal.
The power of the natural world around us is maintained by a complex balance. At some point, we humans lost the knowledge that we too fit into this equilibrium. As we disturb and destroy nature with no forethought or consideration we in turn lay curses upon our own heads. For those who choose to laugh at my anecdotes, well, go ahead. But for those others of you who might have already felt this pull from nature or from their own hearts, I ask to consider you to take into consideration not only your own pleasure but what might be best for all those living and non-living entities around you.