Animist Ethnographic Survey

Blowing in the Wind
by el.tortugo

Section one (Ethnographic Proposal)

Everybody has animist beliefs whether they are aware of them or not. I would dare say that those who claim that they don’t actually do, to some degree. We all come from animist cultures if we look back far enough, as well as having animist practices to a degree in most major religions of today. To check and see if this idea is true, I surveyed people at a local café as well as students at the Santa Fe Community College. My original plan to survey visitors to our fair city was foiled by uncooperative weather, was the land, Santa Fe, telling me something?

I began with a written survey that everyone whom I interviewed was given to complete. The first part of the survey was pretty simple and basic, asking if they thought it possible for the land, plants, animals and inanimate objects (called “environment” collectively for the remainder of the paper), were able to communicate with us on some level. I tried my hardest to leave the questions as simple as possible and to hold off asking too many questions before and during their answering the surveys, so as not to influence or direct their answers.

Depending on the amount of time people had available and their willingness to discuss further, I gave a second part of the survey, as well as interview them to get deeper into their views. I had about five good, in depth interviews out of sixteen surveys. This part of the survey got into possible methods of enhancing our ability to listen to the communications coming from our “environment” as well as possible ways to more actively incorporate these various methods into our daily lives.

Section two (Ethnographic Account)

I was very nervous and shy about walking up to strangers, asking them if they talk to the dirt, trees and ants. Even more difficult was asking if the dirt, trees and ants communicated anything back to them. Spending a rainy afternoon stuck at the Baking Company helped to get me past that shyness and made for a lively discussion about my topic and beyond.

The plethora of viewpoints on this topic reflects the nature of these kinds of belief, varied and individualistic. Out of sixteen people surveyed, thirteen thought that the land or place could communicate with us in some way, twelve thought that plants and animals can communicate with us in some way, six thought that inanimate objects communicate with us in some way with two saying maybe on the inanimate category, one interviewee disagreed entirely. Each one interviewed had a totally different viewpoint on the topic, adding to the pool.

Some of those that I interviewed gave outside of the box answers on some or all questions. I considered a response outside the box if they thoughtfully redefined the question, not giving a yes or no answer. Answers like the one that communication is a human construct and that if our environment did communicate with us it would be in light of our constructs and through our human faculties. Also that the concept of animate and inanimate is affected by our state of mind. I think that many of those surveyed held more to the idea that we are likely projecting and communication perceived coming from the environment.

One of the questions that got the most varied response was, “What language(s) would the environment use to communicate with us?” People came up with more kinds of language and types of communication than I initially had thought of myself. I think that they are all worth listing them all here so as to see the range of ideas. Intuition, dreams, random chance/synchronicity, all forms of art, body language and vocal chords in animals, through our senses both consciously and subconsciously, no language that can be written or spoken, depends on what you are looking for or what you think is there, mental messages, may learn from their presence (on inanimate objects), feelings, wavelengths, nothing concrete, frequency and vibration.

Most of those who thought our environment could communicate something to us said that the message that they get from observation is a warning of some sort, that messages are most noticeable when things are out of balance. Though most of the interviewees thought that it is crucial to our survival as a species to listen, most of them don’t listen and/or said that we all listen and are affected subconsciously.
It was expressed by a few interviewees that if we don’t listen, we can expect more of the usual. Other thoughts on how not listening might affect us include disharmony, shrinking wilderness/natural ecosystems, missed opportunities, restrictions, loss of effective communication, unreceptive to our environment, everything will seek normality (balance, homeostasis), and further ignorance.

The importance of learning to listen to our environment was mainly seen in light of the continuation of our species on earth. A lot of people seemed to be resolved that we as a race are doomed and that in the big picture it didn’t really matter as long as we aren’t attached to continuing the species. The other side of this coin being that everything matters and is interconnected.

It became a bit more important to learn to listen as the topic moved to a personal level. Not paying attention is thought to be causing our species to devolve, due to lack of diversity in our daily lives. Also, the state of mind that we have throughout our day affects how our day goes and how our surroundings interact with us. This is a fairly common idea, which along with any communication coming from nonhumans, is thought to be due to our projecting out onto things. There were a few who genuinely believed that other that humans were communicating with us.

My survey had a second part depending on the interviewee’s amount of time available and if they showed interest in the topic. I began this section with some ideas about how we might enhance or listening abilities and asked if they had more ideas to add. Again I was surprised by the input here and I think it is worth listing the ideas that were offered; silence, develop sixth sense, spend more time in nature, live more with nature, become aware of our environment, talk to trees/plants and nature, write, dance, breath deep, listen, reflection, vision quest, self discovery, know thy self, meditate, accept that all things happen for a reason, forgiveness, follow an organic calendar to resonate with nature, myth and archetypes, that our self-concept affects us most, a true and spiritual self-concept is important to live in harmony with anybody or on the land.

Secondly I asked what roles shamanic practices might have in our lives towards getting along better with our other than human neighbors. Some responses were that they would help to introduce industrialized people to nature and her ways of being, serve as “Guideposts”, traditions often have hidden, unknown and unseen meanings and purposes, and would help us listen to our environment; easing tension, stress and frustration.

One interviewee who had spent some time in Asia told of how nature ceremonies and rituals could be adopted on an individual daily basis, as he had witnessed in Japan, Thailand and Bali. He thought that this was a part of daily life in all of Asia. He also thought Ireland retains a strong animist streak along with countries with Celtic influence. I would include Russia and really any old world country that has a strong Catholic or Eastern Orthodox practice. I think that Catholicism is the next best thing to animism, especially the folk traditions as they have tended to keep much of the old paganism and animistic practices.

Some possible effects of living in balance and listening to our environment are that Industrial culture would shift to an organic industrial culture, we would develop technologies so we can understand the powers we already have, it would help us through the maze we have created; helping us find respect and love for ourselves and for our future as a species. In a much more idealistic vision, in my opinion, that was shared is that we would end up practicing Ahimsa – non harming anything, that humans are supposed to be stewards of nature not its murderous consumers, we would Heal our damaged culture, we would revert to vegetarianism and wars will end.

The surveys and interviews that I have done support my hypothesis that “People have more animist beliefs and practices than they are aware of” was pretty right on. If during the process of answering the surveys, I would have gotten a more unanimous response. I was truly shocked that someone totally disagreed, particularly with the idea of communication with animals. Another element that differs, in a way, from my hypothesis is that many more interviewees actually were aware of their animist views, desiring to be more aware of their environments.


As a step towards self-empowerment and self-exploration, we would all do well to turn off our gadgets and step outside asking the land, the animals and the plants we live with to tell us something. Once In touch with our environment, and ourselves we will begin to break the mass media hypnosis (hegemony). We can begin to shed the tendency to see our environment, as a backdrop to where our important human affairs are conducted. We need to really find out if the earth is a living, integrated system that has value of its own and on its own, aside from direct usefulness to humans. Making small changes, step-by-step on ourselves are the things that we can do in order to affect the change we sense needs to be made.

The process of surveying people about this topic helps me to keep the idea in perspective. The ideas that the land, plants and animals can communicate more than the obvious, sometimes feel like projections that I am making. I want to be sure to see clearly what is actually happening and taking place, including a variety of different people definitely has helped my thought process on the issue. At the same time I can’t deny my experiences with place and with the plants and animals of a place.

The idea of experienced reality is important to keep in mind when considering this topic, as well as the validity of perceptual diversity. I have just begun to see and to study a trend in academic studies that call into question the supremacy of strict scientific method. Transrational, altered states of consciousness such as meditation, trance, dreams and imagination are ancient and effective ways of interacting with our environment and gaining knowledge that is not readily available through other methods. I am not certain where this fits in and how it can be observed and studied, but I sense there is a way.

The ethnography process has revealed to me how inconsistent I am about practicing my beliefs and walking my talk. Not so much with listening and interacting in a more aware way to my environment, but in that I am much more out of practice in communicating with other humans. I think it is of great importance that we get together for face-to-face interaction. The lack of this kind of communication is something that I criticize computers and modern culture for fostering, yet when it comes time for me to step out and initiate a conversation I get all closed down and I freeze. This project has open my eyes to this area in my life and has already led to my initiating more meaningful conversations with people, listening being a key part to this.

The answers given to me in response to my surveys show that everybody does have animist beliefs as well as ideas for ways that can help us to listen and to be more aware of our environment. Everyone interviewed had great insights and suggestions for becoming more aware. Most shared the conviction that it is essential for us to get in touch with our surroundings and ourselves for various reasons. Many more questions and ideas have been inspired by this project. Refinements to my original questions as well as different directions that this topic can go; The idea of how empowering this way of life can be, breaking the hypnosis induced by the hegemonic consumerist culture we live in, existing practices within world religions and the discoveries of modern science that support these ideas being just a few to begin looking into.


Animism – I am using a newer definition of the word animism that is closer to how animists themselves would define it.

Polyphasic Consciousness – Perceptual Diversity – allows human beings to access knowledge through a variety of perceptual processes, rather than merely through everyday waking reality. Many of these perceptual processes are transrational, altered states of consciousness (meditation, trance, dreams, imagination) and are not considered valid processes for accessing knowledge by science (which is based primarily upon quantification, reductionism, and the experimental method).

Shamanic – Shamanism is a Siberian word that has come to be used as a catch all term used for medicine peoples the world over. It refers to a person who is a healer that is a part of an animist worldview.


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