Some of the best quotes illuminating an experiential philosophy and ecological worldview rooted in nature.
1. “The experience of animistic consciousness wipes away the Cartesian distinction of an independent, rational self surrounded by a mechanical, dead universe. Gone is the hardened dualism of self and other, opening us to a form of apprehension that pre-historian Jean Clottes described as fluid and permeable: “Fluidity means the categories that we have, man, woman, horse, tree, etc., can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of spirits.
The world of spirit, for me, isn’t limited to ghosts, holy or otherwise. It means the innate, unique sentience of all beings, now hidden from us by the blinders of our a priori world view. In this way, animistic perspective is the great equalizer: you cannot poison the Earth if you instinctively recognize it as the organic extension of your own body and mind—indeed, as your body and mind.”
― Robert Tindall M.
2. Animism is worth considering (a) because it exists, (b) because it addresses contemporary issues and debates, and (c) because it clarifies, in various ways, the argument that the project of modernity is ill-conceived and dangerously performed.
― Graham Harvey
3. The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity—then we will treat each one with greater respect. That is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.
― David Suzuki
4. Animism is not a belief but a worldview: The world is a sacred place and we are part of it. The factuality of this statement is not the issue. To say that the world is a sacred place is to make a statement about values, not facts. It’s a statement about what you mean by “sacred,” just as “money can’t buy happiness” is a statement about what you mean by “happiness.” To put it all very simply, Animism isn’t a belief system, it’s a value system.
― Daniel Quinn
5. “Animism is the way humanity has been deeply connected to the land and its seasonal cycles for millennia, in rapport and conversation with the animals, plants, elements, ancestors and earth spirits. The opposite of animism is the “cult of the individual” so celebrated in modern society, and the loss of the animist worldview is at the root of our spiritual disconnect and looming ecological crisis. Human beings are just one strand woven into the complex systems of Earth Community, and the animistic perspective is fundamental to the paradigm shift, and the recovery of our own ancestral wisdom.”
― Pegi Eyers
6. The distinction between life and lifeless is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are an immortal part of us.
― John Seed, Thinking Like a Mountain
7. “The elders were wise. They know that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to a lack of respect for humans too.”
― Chief Luther Standing Bear from the Lakota Sioux
8. “This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence, a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
― Plato, Timaeus
9. “The crisis is at root one of perception; we no longer see the cosmos as alive, nor do we any longer recognize that we are inseparable from the whole of nature, and from our earth as a living being. But there is hope, for as the crisis deepens, the call of anima mundi intensifies.”
― Stephan Harding
10. What you intend when you approach something in the world determines, to varying extents, the degree of sensory gating that occurs as you perceive that phenomenon. Intent, task demands, cognitive template, and gating defaults all affect what you sensorally perceive when a part of the exterior world and you meet. More colloquially, all of us see what we expect to see.”
― Stephen Harrod Buhner
11. “People think they understand things because they become familiar with them. This is only superficial knowledge. It is the knowledge of the astronomer who knows the names of the stars, the botanist who knows the classification of the leaves and flowers, the artist who knows the aesthetics of green and red. This is not to know nature itself- the earth and sky, green and red. Astronomer, botanist, and artist have done no more than grasp impressions and interpret them, each within the vault of his own mind. The more involved they become with the activity of the intellect, the more they set themselves apart and the more difficult it becomes to live naturally.”
― Masanobu Fukuoka
12. “Science is a dangerous gift unless it can be brought into contact with wisdom that resides in the sensual, intuitive and ethical aspects of our nature. For most non-Western cultures, nature is truly alive, and every entity within it is endowed with agency, intelligence and wisdom. This animistic perception is archetypal, ancient and primordial.
― Robert Riversong
13. Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.
― David Abram
14. “Modern materialists and religious extremists alike lack the spiritual animistic reverence for non-human beings that every culture once understood as a given.”
― Zeena Schreck
15. “Life is a planetary level phenomenon and the Earth has been alive for at least 3000 million years. To me the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable – the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal a sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.”
― Lynn Margolis
16. “James Hillman so eloquently put it, “It was only when science convinced us that nature was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.” A living, aware, and soul-filled world does not respond well to autopsy.”
― Stephen Harrod Buhner
17. “I was educated at Cambridge. How admirable is the Western method of submitting all theory to scrupulous experimental verification! That procedure has gone hand in hand with the gift for introspection which is my Eastern heritage. Together they have enabled me to sunder the silences of natural realms long uncommunicative. The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals.”
― Jagadish Chandra Bose
18. “Reason flows from the blending of rational thought and feeling. If the two functions are torn apart, thinking deteriorates into schizoid intellectual activity and feeling deteriorates into neurotic life-damaging passions.”
― Erich Fromm
19. “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.
Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.”
― Alan Watts
20. “There is no environment “out there” that is separate from us. We can’t manage our impact on the environment if we are our surroundings. Indigenous people are absolutely correct: we are born of the earth and constructed from the four sacred elements of earth, air, fire and water. (Hindus list these four and add a fifth element, space.)”
― David Suzuki
21. “Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way.”
— Blackfoot Proverb
22. The nomadic gatherer-hunters live in an entirely sacred world. Their spirituality reaches as far as all of their relations. They know the animals and plants that surround them and not only the ones of immediate importance. They speak with what we would call “inanimate objects,” but they can speak the same language. They know how to see beyond themselves and are not limited to the human languages that we hold so dearly. Their existence is grounded in place, they wander freely, but they are always home, welcome and fearless.
― Kevin Tucker
23. “The apocalypse is not something which is coming. The apocalypse has arrived in major portions of the planet and it’s only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege and social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating the apocalypse.”
― Terence Mckenna
24. “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
― Chief Seattle
25. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eye of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity…and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake
26. “One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will talk back to you. But if you don’t talk to the animals, they won’t talk back to you, then you won’t understand, and when you don’t understand you will fear, and when you fear you will destroy the animals, and if you destroy the animals, you will destroy yourself.”
― Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation
27. “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.”
― George Washington Carver
28. “Animists are people who recognize that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others. Animism is lived out in various ways that are all about learning to act respectfully (carefully and constructively) towards and among other persons. Persons are beings, rather than objects, who are animated and social towards others (even if they are not always sociable). Animism may involve learning how to recognize who is a person and what is not – because it is not always obvious and not all animists agree that everything that exists is alive or personal. However, animism is more accurately understood as being concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationships with other persons.”
― Graham Harvey
29. “Illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against Nature. When enough sins have accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear.”
30. “In the oldest religion, everything was alive, not supernaturally but naturally alive. There were only deeper and deeper streams of life, vibrations of life more and more vast. So rocks were alive, but a mountain had a deeper, vaster life than a rock, and it was much harder for a man to bring his spirit, or his energy, into contact with the life of a mountain, and so he drew strength from the mountain, as from a great standing well of life, than it was to come into contact with the rock. And he had to put forth a great religious effort. For the whole life-effort of man was to get his life into contact with the elemental life of the cosmos. mountain-life, cloud-life, thunder-life, air-life, earth-life, sun-life. To come into the immediate felt contact, and so derive energy, power, and a dark sort of joy. This effort into sheer naked contact, without an intermediary or mediator, is the root meaning of religion …”
― D.H. Lawrence
31. “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
32. “The animistic perspective has a long and distinguished philosophical pedigree. For some eminent philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibniz, and more recently Alfred North Whitehead, it was inconceivable that sentience (subjective consciousness) could ever emerge or evolve from wholly insentient (objective, physical) matter, for to propose this would be to believe in a fundamental division or inconsistency within the very fabric of reality itself.
Therefore each of these philosophers considered matter to be intrinsically sentient. The new animism that they espoused simply recognizes that the material world around us has always been a dimension of sensation and feelings–albeit sensations that may be very different from our own–and that each entity must be treated with respect for its own kind of experience.”
― Stephan Harding
33. If we are to survive, we must learn a new way to live, or relearn an old way. There have existed, and for the time being still exist, many cultures whose members refuse to cut the vocal cords of the planet, and refuse to enter into the deadening deal which we daily accept as part of living. It is perhaps significant that prior to contact with Western Civilization many of these cultures did not have rape, nor did they have child abuse…. wish that we could say the same. It is perhaps significant that members of these cultures listen attentively (as though their lives depend on it, which of course they do) to what plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and stars have to say, and that these cultures have been able to do what we can only dream of, which is to live in dynamic equilibrium with the rest of the world.
― Derrick Jenson, A Language Older Than Words
34. Once the idea of a supernaturalistic creation is fully overcome, the idea returns that the universe must be self-organizing and therefore composed of self-moving parts. Also, insofar as dualistic assumptions are fully overcome and human experience is accepted as fully natural, it begins to seem probable that something analogous to our experience and self-movement is a feature of every level of nature.
― David Ray Griffin
35. “Children arrive animists. They learn about life, themselves, and empathy by imagining the liveliness of everything they come into contact with.”
― S. Kelley Harrell
36. “Animism is a monist metaphysical stance, based upon the idea that mind and matter are not distinct and separate substances but an integrated reality, rooted in nature.”
― Emma Restall Orr
37. “Everything in nature is alive and speaking. Our spiritual practice is about opening our eyes, ears and hearts to hear, understand, and communicate back. The elements, the Ancestors and the spirit beings that surround us want us to communicate with them. They want to work with us to heal the Earth, but they need our invitation.”
38. “Sympathy binds human beings to plants, animals, rocks and stars. Therefore they become beings rather than objects, fellows rather than things, and members in a circle of social relations.”
― Peter Nabokov
39. “Animism, because it seeks to relate and converse with the world, rather than to define and control it, always renews itself. It wakes up every morning fresh and alive, and every evening it tucks itself to bed to dream again for the very first time. Since animism involves a relationship with the world, a living being that exists in the now, the present moment, what more relevant perspective could you find?”
― Willem Larsen
40. “In tribal societies, there is so much to see and hear. The bear speaks, the river speaks, the rainbow signifies, the eclipse is a sign. The animistic personification of natural objects may be difficult for us to accept in any ‘literal’ way. Yet, judged solely on intellectual grounds, animism can be credited with a more sophisticated perception of physicality than Western Knowledge. Far from regarding matter as dead stuff, tribal societies perceive it as infused with mind, will, and intention.”
― Theodore Roszak
41. “In the cosmology of the Haudenosaunee (often referred to as the Iroquois), the world around and all its features – rivers, trees, clouds, springs and mountains are regarded as alive, endowed with spirit and sensibility every bit as real as those of humans, and in fact of exactly the same type and quality as a human’s. Among the Iroquois this was called Orenda, the invisible force inherent in all parts of the universe.”
― Kirkpatrick Sale
42. “We bring breaths of open spaces and hills, of sunshine, showers, and breezes. All of these are part of your being. Even if you live in the midst of a busy city, these natural things are home to you. They are part of the atmosphere of this Earth, part of the surroundings in which you live and grow. Even if your life and thinking are completely enmeshed in the human world, still you are part of our Deva world, which works for the perfect flowering of all life. This is your birthright. You may turn your back on it, but someday you will learn the truth and live in connection with all life on this planet. Only then will you tap your highest potential.”
― Gentian Deva
43. “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe … We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”
― Albert Einstein
44. “When we speak of Nature it is wrong to forget that we are ourselves a part of Nature. We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.”
― Henri Matisse
45. “The term environment refers to the external conditions or surroundings of organisms, whereas ecology refers to the relationships between organisms and their external conditions or surroundings, that is, their environment. The prefix eco (for “ecology”) is therefore more appropriate for my purposes than the adjective environmental because the kind of approach that I will be developing herein is one that attempts to break down the rigid distinctions that we tend to draw between ourselves and our environment. Instead of seeking to maintain these distinctions, this approach attempts to foster a greater awareness of the intimate and manifold relationships that exist between what we conventionally designate as self and what we conventionally designate as environment.
― Warwick Fox
46. “The basic pattern of life is a network. Whenever you see life, you see networks. The whole planet, what we can term ‘Gaia’ is a network of processes involving feedback tubes. And the world of bacteria is critical to the details of these feedback processes, because bacteria play a crucial role in the regulation of the whole Gaian system.”
― Fritjof Capra
47. “I consider that this shift to an emphasis on our “capacity to identify with the larger collective of all beings” is essential to our survival at this point in history precisely because it can serve in lieu of morality and because moralising is ineffective. Sermons seldom hinder us from pursuing our self-interest, so we need to be a little more enlightened about what our self-interest is. It would not occur to me, for example, to exhort you to refrain from cutting off your leg. That wouldn’t occur to me or to you, because your leg is part of you. Well, so are the trees in the Amazon Basin; they are our external lungs. We are just beginning to wake up to that. We are gradually discovering that we are our world.”
― Joanna Macy
48. “Gaia is a thin spherical shell of matter that surrounds the incandescent interior; it begins where the crustal rocks meet the magma of the Earth’s hot interior, about 100 miles below the surface, and proceeds another 100 miles outwards through the ocean and air to the even hotter thermosphere at the edge of space. It includes the biosphere and is a dynamic physiological system that has kept our planet fit for life for over three billion years. I call Gaia a physiological system because it appears to have the unconscious goal of regulating the climate and the chemistry at a comfortable state for life. Its goals are not set points but adjustable for whatever is the current environment and adaptable to whatever forms of life it carries.
I know that to personalize the Earth System as Gaia, as I have often done and continue to do in this book, irritates the scientifically correct, but I am unrepentant because metaphors are more than ever needed for a widespread comprehension of the true nature of the Earth and an understanding of the lethal dangers that lie ahead.”
― James Lovelock
49. Oh what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and the setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and equinox! This is what is the matter with us, we are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the Earth, and sun, and stars – and love, poor blossom, we plucked from its stem on the tree of life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
― D.H. Lawrence
50. “In my opinion, no more destructive belief exists than the idea that we have escaped the constraints imposed by nature on all other species. We assume that by enabling us to exploit and alter our surroundings, our intellect has freed us from dependence on specific habitats. We believe we are no longer part of nature, because we have acquired the ability to control and manage the forces impinging on us. This illusion of escape from nature has been reinforced by our extraordinary transformation in this century from country dwellers to city dwellers. In an urban setting, we live in a human-created environment, surrounded by other people plus a few domesticated plants and animals, as well as the pests that have overcome our defences. Living among such a dearth of species, we no longer recognize our dependence on the rest of life for our well-being and our very survival. It is simpler to assume that the economy delivers our food, clean air, water and energy and takes away our sewage and waste. We forget that the Earth itself provides all these services, and so makes economists and the economy possible. We are biological beings, as dependent on the biosphere as any other life form and we forget our animal nature at our peril.”
― David Suzuki
51. Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease a herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.
― Mourning Dove Salish
52. “The demons of animism were usually hostile to man, but it seems as though man had more confidence in himself in those days than later on.
Our philosophy has preserved essential traits of animistic modes of thought such as the over-estimation of the magic of words and the belief that real processes in the external world follow the lines laid down by our thoughts.”
― Sigmund Freud
53. A ghost is haunting modernity–the ghost of animism. It awaits us everywhere when we step outside modern reason’s cone of light, outside its firmly mapped order, when approaching its frontier zones and “outside.” We find it in the imagined darkness of modernity’s outside, where everything changes shape and the world is reassembled from the fragments that reason expels from its chains of coherences.
― Anselm Franke
54. “As a Zuñi elder focuses her eyes upon a cactus and hears the cactus begin to speak, so we focus our eyes upon these printed marks and immediately hear voices. We hear spoken words, witness strange scenes or visions, even experience other lives. As nonhuman animals, plants, and even “inanimate” rivers once spoke to our tribal ancestors, so the “inert” letters on the page now speak to us! This is a form of animism that we take for granted, but it is animism nonetheless–as mysterious as a talking stone.”
― David Abram
55. Animism had its origins in two universal human experiences: (1) the sense that something invisible yet all-important leaves the body at the moment of death, and (2) the suspicion that dreams and visions make contact with a higher reality. Once the belief in a spiritual realm was established, it was only a few short steps to positing the existence of spiritual beings that stand behind nature, and behind the world as a whole.
― Bradley L. Herling
56. “Children arrive animists. They learn about life, themselves, and empathy by imagining the liveliness of everything they come into contact with.”
― S. Kelley Harrell
57. “The nomadic gatherer-hunters live in an entirely sacred world. Their spirituality reaches as far as all of their relations. They know the animals and plants that surround them and not only the ones of immediate importance. They speak with what we would call “inanimate objects,” but they can speak the same language. They know how to see beyond themselves and are not limited to the human languages that we hold so dearly. Their existence is grounded in place, they wander freely, but they are always home, welcome and fearless.”
― Kevin Tucker
58. “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
― Native American Proverb
59. “Climate crisis is a catastrophic culmination of modernity’s existential crisis. As many other environmental philosophers have noticed, this crisis lies in a profound dissociation within the modern man — separation from the environment and non-human life-forms, which are seen as lacking subjectivity and consciousness, as well as from his own body and other people within the competitive capitalist society. It is a crisis of anthropocentrism and individualistic solipsism. To adapt to the new climate, we need novel modes of perception which animate the non-human environment and life-forms (similarly as in the indigenous, animistic cosmologies and ontologies).”
― David Šír
60. “Animism is often described as the imputation of life to inert objects. Such imputation is more typical of people in western societies who dream of finding life on other planets than of indigenous peoples to whom the label of animism has classically been applied. These peoples are united not in their beliefs but in a way of being that is alive and open to a world in continuous birth. In this animic ontology, beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation, along the lines of their relationships. To its inhabitants this weather-world, embracing both sky and earth, is a source of astonishment but not surprise. Re-animating the ‘western’ tradition of thought means recovering the sense of astonishment banished from official science.”
― Tim Ingold, Rethinking the animate, re-animating thought
61. Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. The kin, or relatives, include all the natural elements of an ecosystem. Indigenous people are affected by and, in turn, affect the life around them. The interactions that result from this “kincentric ecology” enhance and preserve the ecosystem. Interactions are the commerce of ecosystem functioning. Without human recognition of their role in the complexities of life in a place, the life suffers and loses its sustainability. Indigenous cultural models of nature include humans as one aspect of the complexity of life. A Rarámuri example of iwígara will serve to enhance understanding of the human–nature relationship that is necessary in order to fully comprehend the distinct intricacies of kincentric ecology.
– Enrique Salmón, KINCENTRIC ECOLOGY: INDIGENOUS PERCEPTIONS OF THE HUMAN–NATURE RELATIONSHIP
62. “Ecology and spirituality are fundamentally connected, because deep ecological awareness, ultimately, is spiritual awareness.” —Fritjof Capra
63. “What if our religion was each other? If our practice was our life? What if the temple was the Earth? If forests were our church? If holy water – the rivers, lakes, and oceans? What if meditation was our relationships? If the Teacher was life? If wisdom was knowledge? If love was the center of our being.” ― Ganga White
64. “Civilization may be the greatest bait-and-switch that ever was. It convinces us to destroy what is free so an overpriced, inferior copy can be sold to us later—often financed with the money we’ve earned hastening the destruction of the free version… The voices of civilization fill us with manufactured yearnings and then sell us prepackaged dollops of transitory satisfaction that evaporate on the tongue.
Some throw up their hands and blame it all on human nature. But that’s a mistake. It’s not human nature that makes us engage in this blind destruction of our world and ourselves. For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings thrived on this planet without doing it in. No, this is not the nature of our species—it is the nature of civilization, an emergent social structure in which our species is presently trapped..”
― Christopher Ryan Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress
65. “We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau
66. “The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.”
― Danial Quinn, Ishmael
67. “Animism is far from primitive, nor is it about pre-modernity because animism does not serve as a precursor to modernity. Rather animism is one of the many vitally present and contemporary other-than-modern ways of being human.”
— Graham Harvey