Some Notes on Grief, Magic, and Animism

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend two talks given by David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal. His work on animism has inspired and provoked me for more than half a decade, so it was a delight to finally meet him and have the chance to converse.

A Dionysian Connection

At one point, the conversation came around to grief—specifically, grief over the ongoing wave of mass extinctions and destruction of the natural world, and strong temptation to pull back, to refuse to engage, simply because of how painful these things can be to face. In response to this, David suggested that grief is a gate, a threshold, that we can pass through to a deeper way of being in relationship.

In other words, whether it’s ecological or more personal, grief is a doorway, not a destination… which brings a whole new flood of meaning to the invocation, “Hail Dionysos, Opener of the Door!”

Magic and Reciprocity

David also suggested a definition of magic: “Magic is the encounter with a style of intelligence different from your own,” and then added: “and that could be your lover.”

If this touches on some deep truth, as it seems to, then it follows that all communication is a magical act. And furthermore, that all communication, and all magic, is a reciprocal act, affecting both parties, having within that act the power to change and transform them both.

Which brings us squarely back to David’s definition of animism: “the instinctive experience of reciprocity between the perceiver and the perceived.”