So, this is likely to be deeply intertwined with our thoughts on ritual/instinctive magic, and our complicated relationship with various ontological/philosophical schools of thought and how we reconcile various aspects of spiritual/occult practice with scientific method and logic.
That said, we feel that deserves a proper examination at a later date. Suffice it to say, for now, we watch science and religion being invoked with the same fervour and blind obedience and lack of personal critical examination. “God says we should…” and “Science says we should…” are often used by extremists on both sides to shut down discourse.
But, to keep focus on the topic at hand.
We are fundamentally animist in our worldview, and shamanic in our approach when we look at things from a spiritual point of view.
It occurred to us a while back, initially through personal experience, and later through observation of certain neurodiverse students we had worked with, that there may be a pre-disposition towards animism in some neurodiverse people.
Perhaps, more precisely, there are aspects of shamanic practise that are easier for autistic people to engage with.
So let’s define some terminology, with regard to animism and shamanistic practice. There are lot’s of good resources out there to research more, so we will just lightly touch on the basics.
Animism is the fundamental belief that all things have an essence/soul/consciousness equal to ours as human beings. We will call this spirit. This may be deeply alien and hard for us to comprehend given our cultural upbringing, but animism has a long history in relation to the human span.
This means to believe/experience that, there is a soul in an octopus, the hill you cross, the fire you gaze into, a rock beneath your feet, a brewing storm, the mycelium network that feeds the tree, all things.
Shamanism as a label has different applications according to cultural background. We look at it from a generic standpoint, our cultural link was lost long ago, and although we can look to learn from cultures that have retained their link, we are careful not to adopt their specific approaches, more to look at the commonalities in their methods and embrace that which is our common ground without appropriating specific practices.
So, if animism is based around all things having a spirit, shamanism is the relationship between us and those spirits. It is the practical, and shamanism is deeply practical, ways that we can live and relate to animism.
(Note: We are not a “shaman”1, we are shamanic in our practise. A practising Christian is no less for not being Christ, or practising Buddhist for not attaining Buddahood, nor would they claim to be Christ or Buddha, if we are to use a potentially easier to digest set of modern examples.)
So where does this fit with our supposition in relation to neurodivergence and autism?
Well at it’s most basic level. Thinking like a neurotypical person is hard, if not impossible. Given that basic premise, that determining that others have experiences of the world that are hard to comprehend, but experientially undoubtedly valid. The jump to the fact that animals, plants, rocks, land, possess their own spirit and experiences of the world in their own equally alien way, is not too great a leap.
We have joked for decades that people are hard to understand, animals, plants and land are easy.
So how does this play out in practise?
Well, for example, it is common for shamanic practitioners to recognise and journey between realms. The realm most people recognise, is the middle realm, but there are also upper and lower realms. The one most relevant here is the lower realm. It is where the root spirits reside. It is where most people begin their journeying, and probably easiest to explain.
Note: Programmers may prefer to consider this in terms of classes/objects as it’s a similar analogy.
In the middle realm, you have a specific cat or rock or person. The many instances of cat are each possessing their own spirit, as do we all. The lower realm is where we can interact with CAT, the spirit that is related to all cats, a deeper more underlying essence that connects all that spring from it. To journey to the lower realm, is best described as a set of meditative techniques to someone unfamiliar. By journeying to the lower realm, we can interact in ways that allow us to access the wisdom and guidance of various oversouls or root spirits.
One aspect of the lower world, is that it is a safe place2. Death or transformation is not something to be considered harmful within the lower world. Indeed, it is part of shamanic practise to actively seek out consumption, decay, or destruction in order to both understand and experience the rebirth.
Through this, we develop what modernists might call the ego death, that is a footing on the path to shape shifting. Or as a less emotive term, being able to within the lower world, inhabit the river, raven or rock. To be given by the root soul of RAVEN their perspective of the realm, and through that derive understanding.
So to get to the nub of things.
To inhabit rock, tree, or snake, it is necessary to let go of the self and become the other.
We suspect that we find this easier than some we have spoken to, because we are already removed to an extent from the way most other people think. Understanding a cat or horse is no harder than trying to understand people. Therefore, we have one foot on the path towards trying to engage with the spirit of land, sky, plant and so on.
So, we relate this to the autistic experience, as that is the default position of trying to understand the other. Whereas, in a neurotypical experience, it would seem that because they are not in a constant state of trying to understand how other people think, it is harder for them to begin on the path of how other things may think/experience.
Interestingly, children from our time working with the young, they certainly seem to start out with an animistic use of language, and possible worldview i.e. “The chair tripped me up." Which is not to say that we or they, believe that the chair moved and tripped them. But, it is their lack of relation to the chair and the subsequent lack of awareness that caused the trip to happen. This changes as they develop, and culturally we expose them to a different language structure and worldview. Yet, it seems that autistic children, not exclusively, but more frequently retain this animistic language and treating objects as if they are obviously imbibed with spirit.
Of course, this is a large amount of supposition, based much on a n=1 sample. But, we find writing stuff allows us to gather our thoughts before testing our theories through enquiry and exploration. So we are sure we will return to expand on this later to either develop or abandon as we learn3.
Indeed, it was after several interesting middle world interactions that we sigilised the intention “Not your shaman”. ↩︎
For this reason it is important to know which realm we are working in at any given time. While SNAKE or HILL in lower world journeying cannot harm you, both snake and hill are more than capable of doing so in the middle realm. Not that they will intend to do so if you maintain respectful relation to them, which is exactly where the practical aspect of shamanism comes in. It guides our relation to the interconnected spirits around us to help us better interact with them, not in dominion as is the modern trend, but in mutual understanding. ↩︎
Now to find that strange intersection of autistics and animists in order to get their thoughts :-P ↩︎