Handbook of Contemporary Animism

Part II : Dwelling in Nature



Auctor, -trix



Beyond Nature and Culture

Philippe Descola



Revisiting the Anthropology of Nature in Amazonia

Laura Rival



Chewong Animistic Ontology

Signe Howell



Ancestral ... Religion ... in the Philippines

Paul-Franc,ois Tremlett



Toward a Phainomenology of the Spirits

David Abram


Capp. 6-7.



Beyond Nature and Culture

Philippe Descola


[reprint of article in PROC OF THE BRITISH ACAD OF SCIENCE 139 (2006):137-55]

p. 78 primacy of ontology

"I felt the urge to forsake the long-standing sociocentric prejudice and to surmise that social realities -- that is, stabilized relational systems -- are analytically subordinated to

ontological realities -- that is, the systems of properties that humans ascribe to beings."

{False! an ontological reality must be the reality of qualities actually experienced by beings, and never a conjectural account of supposed experiences merely ascribed to them by beings different from themselves. Indeed, an inaccurate account of another's experience would be an ontological irreality, or falsehood.}

{Howbeit, the accounts which humans have of animals becoming, or revealing themselves, as humans, are based on actual dream-encountres with fundamentally anthropoid divine controllers of animal-species, and may be accurate (to the extent that it is a dream mutually shared with, i.e., concurrently experienced by controlling-deity) in and of itself; but must not be thought of as necessarily describing the consciousness of ordinary animals inhabiting the waking-state universe.}

p. 79 no traditionally-known bodiless mind

"there is no known case of a conception of the ordinary living human ... mind without a body".

{Utterly fallacious, and deliberately so! The bodiless mind hath been known for as many millions of years, on this planet, as living beings have been experiencing dreams. In fact, the bodiless dream is the primary type of dream-experience (as is the bodiless the primary mode of the vision-experience). Young childrens' dreams are [as I can recall] always without their having a dream-body, and praesumably so likewise are the dreams of young animals.}

{Besides bodiless-dreaming, so-called "remote-viewing" (well-known to the clandestine "intelligence-services", but withheld -- on account of alleged "national security" -- from public disclosure) is another category of sensory function without employment of a body.}

p. 80 communities of spirits (including of animal-deities) {as known by shamans in dreams}

"the animals and spirits ... possess social characteristics : they live in villages, abide by kinship rules and ethical codes, engage in ritual activity and barter goods."

{Ordinary waking-world animals are never witnessed to do so, whereas in dreams people (deities) who can readily change into animals are often witnessed to do so.}

p. 80 communication of animal-deities and of plant-deities with humans {as known in dreams and in trances}

"animals and plants reveal their interiority under a human form in order to communicate with humans -- in dreams and visions generally, or when ... shamans ... visit animal communities."

{The animals and plants witnessed in dreams are utterly different from, and not even directly related to, the animals and plants which reside in the waking-world; and certainly no experienced shaman would claim otherwise than (but, rather instead, affirm this self-evident fact.}

p. 81 [describing tropical-forest AmerIndian experience in dreaming and in trances enhanced by entheogens -- transl. from Viveiros de Castro 1996:117] relational perceptions of bodily typolology among the categories : human, animals, spirits (deities)

"humans, in normal conditions, see humans as humans, the animals as animals and the spirits ... as spirits;

the (predatory) animals and the spirits see humans as animals (preys), while

the (game) animals see humans as spirits or as (predatory) animals. By contrast,

animals and spirits see themselves as humans."

Viveiros de Castro 1996 = E. B. Viveiros de Castro : "Os pronomes cosmolo`gicos e o perspectivismo ameri`ndio". MANA 2.2:115-44.

{The animals which might see humans as animals are exclusively the theriomorphic deities which appear in dreams (as any dream-traveled shaman is well-aware); certainly no waking-world animals ever do. Exclusively in dreams do divine talking animals tell dream-world-visiting mortals that they can see humans as animals whenever they wish to. In the waking world, animals cannot talk at all, and therefore could not say that they see humans in any particular way; and it would surely spook (terrify) waking-world animals if humans were to appear to morph into other shapes in their praesence, anyway.}

p. 81 are deities capable of realizing that they are deities?

"this would imply ... that the non-human is himself conscious of not being human in spite of the human form under which he perceives himself, a rather implausible hypothesis and one which is not warranted by ethnography." {This assertion, however, is quite contradicted in the next few sentences (pp. 81-2) by the author, which assert that deities do indeed understand that they are distinct from mortals!}

{Actually (as described in many ethnological accounts) even in non-tropical-forest (such as in North-American AmerIndian) dreaming by humans, deities who (as so-called "betrayers", to human hunters of game-animals) assume forms of animals in order to describe to hunters methods of locating of prey-animals, are quite aware that they are themselves deities, normally anthropoid (in human dreaming of them) but adopting (as they explain to the human in the dreaming) in this case (namely, in order to assist the mortal human hunter) a disguise in order to assist in deceiving the hunted game-animals (such as, the buffalo). Therefore, the author (Ph.D.) very much is in error [perhaps even intentionally?] to allege that this regular dreaming (by shamans who assist hunters) is "a rather implausible hypothesis and one which is not warranted by ethnography".}

{Deities of various varieties commonly describe themselves (to mortal human dreamers, i.e., to mortal visitants to the divine dream-word) as "deities" in any such dreaming, whether those deities assume anthropomorphic, theriomorphic, therianthropic, or other (such as landscape-figure forms) guise in any particular dream-circumstance. This is true in, e.g., tribal people such as Kota/Sioux, and likewise hath been true true in modern technological culture, as, e.g., in the dreamings recorded by Carl Gustavus Jung in his Red Book, wherein he described his experiencing being told, by deities themselves that they themselves were deities -- such as, the Sumerian divine hero Bilgames^ (later known as Gilgames^, and wrongly at that time transliterated by Sumerologists as "Izdubar", a form of the name used by the deity in those dreams in order to be recognizable as a name to Carl G. Jung). [However, though, in my own dreaming I announce to deities that I recognize them as deities --and likewise I do the same when they appear to me in the waking-world (wherever they emerge out of the true reality of the divine dream-world into the illusory irreality of the waking-world of feeble mortals), as I have been involved in for some decades.]}

pp. 81-2 do deities really distinguish among their own mutual categories of themselves by "biological equipment"?

p. 81

"if ... non-humans see themselves as humans, ... can they distinguish themselves from humans ...?

{"Persist"? -- Not quite! Deities are all highly capable of multifarious shape-shifting of their apparitionally-existent (nirman.a) bodies : altering at will any "biological equipment" of their own -- though not altering the bodies of any animals (nor of any plants) in the material waking-world which may be referenced (by the deities' own system) as under their control. Deities who each control a species often temporarily assume the guise of their appropriate species, but only into order to deceive and mislead their controlled species, in order to kill membres of it.}

p. 82

The ... answer ... is that non-humans distinguish themselves from humans (and between themselves) ... by the biological equipment proper to each species, ... which persist in their bodies".

p. 82 totemic Cockatoo moiety

"the word designating the totem in many cases is not the name of a species, that is, a biological taxon, but rather the name of an abstract property which is present in this species ... ([von Brandenstein] 1982:54). For instance, the Nungar of Southwest Australia had {and have} two

totemic moieties, respectively called maarnetj,

{This /MAARNetj/ is similar to the name /MARNas/ of a deity worshipped (Hieronymus (Jerome) : Isa. Comm. 7:17:2 & Vit. Hilar. 14 -- LD) at Gazzah, though whereas /Gaza>/ 'to aspire, intend' (A-ED, p. 788a) repraesents /Gaziyah/ 'woman dancer, danseuse' (A-ED, p. 788b), goddess Kura-naituku aspiring to leap -- over steam (instead of over the smoke in the Adnyamathanha cave-myth in "AAM1").}

which can be translated as "the catcher",

{[Wik Kalkan sorcery & myth] Instead of being caught, a woman merely "is attracted by the sound ... first made and used by the two cockatoo brothers" ("AAM1").}

and waardar, which means

{similar, perhaps, to the name of Vaidik god /VR.TRa/}

"the watcher", these two terms also being used to designate the totems of these moieties,

{With this "watcher" cf. Lunkeus who espied Kastor hidden "inside a hollow oak" (GM 74.g) : for, in the myth from the Noonuccal people of Minjerribah (Stradbroke Island), "The stars of the Cross are the eyes of a man imprisoned in the tree, blazing in the darkness. The stars called the 'pointers' are two white cockatoos that flew after the tree when it was lifted into the sky." ("AAM1")}

the White Cockatoo and the Crow ([von] Brandenstein 1977).

{[Adnyamathanha myth] Cockatoos were together with crows in a cave, guarded by women ("AAM1"). This myth may be comparable with the Maori myth of bird-woman Kura-naituku's keeping pet birds in her house.}

von Brandenstein 1982 = Carl Georg von Brandenstein : Names and Substance of the Australian Subsection System. Univ of Chicago Pr.

LD = Lewis & Short : A Latin Dictionary.

"AAM1" = "Australia Aboriginal Mythology 1". http://www.janesoceania.com/australia_aboriginal_mythology1/index1.htm

von Brandenstein 1977 = Carl Georg von Brandenstein : "Aboriginal Ecological Order in the South-West of Australia". OCEANIA 57.3:170-86.

{A "cockatoo digging grubs out of a tree" ("AAM1") would be the Australian aequivalent to Picentian woodpecker-god Picus, associated with war-god Mars, whence the militaristic signification of /Gazi/.}

p. 83 conventionally-claimed traits of moiety-membres

"In the case of the Nungar, for example, humans belonging to the moiety of "the catcher" are said to have light brown skin, round faces ..., curly hair and to be endowed with an impulsive ... temperament, while

members of the moiety "the watcher" are said to have dark ... skin, to be very hairy and of stocky build, with small hand and feet, and to be vindictive, sullen and secretive.

Such qualities are not directly inferred from the observation of the White Cockatoo or the Crow".

{Perhaps these traits are intended as legendary descriptions of putative founders of the moieties.}

pp. 83-4 analogism

p. 83

"analogism, is predicated on ... a multiplicity of essences, forms and substances ...,

often ordered along a graded scale, such as the Great Chain of Being that served as the main cosmological model during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. ...

{"Those creatures or things higher on the Chain possessed greater intellect, movement, and ability than those placed below. Thus each being in the Chain possessed all of the attributes of what was below plus an additional, superior attribute" ("GChB").} {Social classes were praesent in such (TP"GChB") : so that in sociological terms, this so-called "Great Chain of Being" was largely a ruling-class-promoted feignedly-pious fraud for inducing repressed social class to believe that they were, in fact, naturally inferior.}

Such an obsession with analogies becomes a dominating feature, as in ancient China ... according to Granet ... ([1934] ...:

p. 84

297). ... Analogism can be seen as ... completeness and totalization ... which would have all the appearance of continuity. ...

Apart from the paradigmatic case of China,

{where it is as-of-yet much-employed in medical description of functions of drugs}

this type of ontology is quite common in parts of Asia, in West Africa, or among the native communities of Mesoamerica and the Andes."

"GChB" = "The Great Chain of Being". E. M. W. Tillyard & A. O. Lovejoy : The Great Chain of Being : the History of an Idea. 1936. http://faculty.grandview.edu/ssnyder/121/121%20great%20chain.htm

TP"GChB" = Tripod"The Great Chain of Being". http://jackytappet.tripod.com/chain.html

Granet 1934 = Marcel Granet : La pense'e chinoise. (reprinted 1969 by Albin Michel in Paris)

p. 87 clans of the Cockatoo moiety

Among "the Nungar, in the moiety of "the getter" iconically represented by the White Cockatoo, ...

{In a myth from the Murray river-valley, "Cockatoo invited him to get on his back. He flew up to the ceiling of the underworld, found the hole and flew through." ("AAM1")}

one finds also [i.e., as clans] eagles, pelicans, snake, mosquitoes, whales".

{These clan-names may involve flying beings who carry other beings into the sky, similar to the Kwakiutl "Thunderbird ... known to swoop down from the sky to capture a surfacing whale in his huge talons, then to fly off" (LTP, p. 34).}

LTP = Hilary Stewart : Looking at Totem Poles. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver (BC); Univ of WA Pr, Seattle, 1993. http://books.google.com/books?id=WSueEr81v0IC&pg=PA34&lpg=PA34&dq=

p. 87 personified animals among the Ac^uar and the Makuna

"an animic collective collective such as the Achuar tribe of the Upper Amazon {specifically, in Ecuador} is exclusively composed of achuar-persons {thus excluding other tribes}, while among their non-human neighbors,

one finds only peccary-persons in the peccary tribe, tapir-persons in the tapir tribe, toucan-persons in the toucan tribe."

{implying that the species-controlling dream-deities of only these species are commonly known and communicated withal : praesumably because those species are hunted the most, and therefore their species-controlling deities are needed the most by hunters in order to assist in killing them}

"for the Makuna of Colombia, the tapir tribe has the same type of leader, shaman and ritual system as has the peccary tribe, the toucan tribe and, of course, the Makuna tribe (Aorhem 1996)."

Aorhem 1996 = K. Aorhem : "The Cosmic Food Web : Human-Nature Relatedness in the Northwest Amazon". In :- Ph. Descola & G. Pa`lsson (edd.) : Nature and Society : Anthropological Perspectives. London : Routledge. pp. 185-204.

{As usual, the authors omit mentioning that the deities being contacted by human shamanic hunter-assisting practitioners function mainly in assisting hunters to kill specimens of their controlled species. Is the reason for this studious omission (surely imposed on United-Kingdom university-anthropology-departments by strictures of the royal government and of its House-of-Lords) that the nobility dread that if the general populace (of the U.K.) were to realize how eath -- as eath as hunting a wild beast -- it would be to dispose of troublesomely reactionary nobility by means of shamanic sorcery-techniques, an occult series of praeternatural sorcery-assaults might commence against such noisome nobility in the U.K.? [written Dec 4 2014]}

p. 89 relatively-aged geographic features in cosmologies of endogamous sections of tribes in C^iapas

"endogamous sections, or kalpul, of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal of Chiapas, ... are social and cosmic segments ... exerting a control on land tenure ... . ... The demographic and ceremonial preponderance ... is ... in pairs of complementary elements, one said to be "elder", the other "younger" : each "elder" mountain is thus flanked by a "younger" mountain, each "elder" cavern" by a "younger" one, and so on".



Revisiting the Anthropology of Nature in Amazonia

Laura Rival


[reprinted from INDIANA 29 (2012):127-43]

p. 95 (Rival 1997) [myth from the Waorani of Ecuador] collapse of primordial ceibo tree

"there were ... two dangerous individuals, Eagle ... and Condor ..., who preyed on people ... . ... And it was the attempt by several primordial beings

(in particular Squirrel

{Is this why squirrel-deity Rata-to,sk is important in the Edda?}

and Spider) to trick and kill the predators that caused the fall of the giant tree".

Rival 1997 = Laura Rival : "The Huaorani and Their Trees". In :- Klaus Seeland (ed.) : Nature is Culture : Indigenous Knowledge ... of Trees and Forests in Non-European Cultures. London : Intermediate Technology Publ. pp. 67-78.

pp. 96-7 Waorani origin-myths

p. 96

"If at the beginning of creation there was only one single giant tree rooted in earth and tied to the sky, its transformation into a great water system ... articulates the ritual power inherent in natural ... regeneration (see also Hill 2009)."

"Another creation myth ... requires that Grandfather ... be reborn of his wife".

p. 97

"Perceiving themselves as victims of ... evil spirits in the shape of mystical jaguars or harpy eagles ..., the Huaorani live their lives eluding".

Hill 2009 = J. Hill : "Materializing the Occult : ... Wakue`nai Ontology". In :- F. Santos-Granero (ed.) : The Occult Life of Things : Native Amazonian Theories ... . Tucson : Univ of AZ Pr. pp. 235-62.

p. 97 Waorani continuity of the forest at the need thereof by humans

"The Huaorani vision of ... the forest's natural bounty is understood to result from ...

"doing" (que` {/ke/}) and "living" (hue` {/we/}) in ... the forest that people "make the forest grow" (ahuene tei tei que`)".

{On account of continuing needs of humans residing therein, the forest is continued to flourish by plant-controlling deities and by animal-controlling deities who have in their motivations the maintaining of the welfare of humanity.}

{As usual, the author (or author's source) did not consult a knowledgeable shaman experienced in dealing with deities, but accepted a vague allegation by some of the layfolk who had never consulted deities -- which is why this explanation lacked appropriate reference to deities, i.e., the propres explanation that all "animals" and "plants" referred to are deities encountred in dreams and in dissociated trances (but not anything in the waking-world).}


Graham Harvey (ed.) : Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Acumen Publ, Durham; ISD, Bristol, 2013.