Wights and other persons

Here's a great quote to start the discussion:

Yet I remained puzzled by my hostess’s assertion that these were gifts “for the spirits.” To be sure, there has always been some confusion between our Western notion of “spirit” (which so often is defined in contrast to matter or “flesh”), and the mysterious presences to which tribal and indigenous cultures pay so much respect. I have already alluded to the gross misunderstandings arising from the circumstance that many of the earliest Western students of these other customs were Christian missionaries all to ready to see occult ghosts and immaterial phantoms where the tribespeople were simply offering their respect to the local winds. While the notion of “spirit” has come to have, for us in the West, a primarily anthropomorphic or human association, my encounter with the ants was the first of many experiences suggesting to me that the “spirits” of an indigenous culture are primarily those modes of intelligence or awareness that do not possess a human form.

— David Abram, author of Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage Books, 1997)


And another:

One might feel embarrassed or silly talking to rocks and sticks. Imagine how they feel! They’ve been talking to us non-stop for centuries, and we rarely answer. They’re starting to doubt we’re sentient, I think.

— Patrick Dunn, Postmodern Magic (Llewellyn) p. 61.
(thanks to Doug Ezzy for posting the quote to the NatRel list.)

I'm indebted to Jenny Blain (Sheffield Hallam University, author of Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic (Routledge, 2002) for introducing me to the word wight.

She tells me that wight can be a synonym of “beings” or “persons”, but, more usefully, that it refers to “sentient beings for which we don't have other words”. Derived from an old English word (with cognates in Old Norse), wiht, the word seems much more useful that the word “spirit”. Too many people, anthropologists included, add the word “spirit” where it really isn’t needed. If trees, rocks, clouds or animals are persons, then it doesn’t help to speak of them as “tree spirits”, etc., unless you want to confuse people into thinking you are making claims about some spiritualised, metaphysical or non-empirical reality. It is only useful to speak of “tree persons” and so on because we need to educate ourselves and other heirs/victims of modernism to find different ways to perceive and relate to other-than-human persons.

(The term “other-than-human persons”, created by Irving Hallowell to say what his Ojibwe hosts had taught him, is fully discussed in my book. Its another “humpty-dumpty” term in my work.)

Wights seems useful too in more poetic circumstances and one's in which we're happy to expect people to ask what we mean. It has become an important part of the language of contemporary Heathens.



Now sometime soon I'm going to have to add a lot more here ...

(sorry, you'll have to come back again).






  Return to animism homepage
  Animist Realism
  Narrow Animism
  Panpsychism and Hylozoism
  More Ethnography
  Living it
  Animation and projection
  you are here
Wights and other persons
  Shamans and animists
  Darwin's animism
  Animist Manifesto


one powerfully alive rock / dog: Akngwelge Thirrewe.

(See p.78 of my book)