The following article by Aitch Nicol first appeared in Krill Journal. This was one of several, very diverse submissions which Aitch sent me (many of which ended up in Krill), and it really grabbed my interest. I had previously heard the term “microanimism” on the Rune Soup podcast and it grabbed my attention. Aitch’s practical guide helped me go deeper, and has in a subsequent post I will talk about where I’ve taken this idea.
Journeying with The Smalls: my microanimistic adventures and how to have your own, by Aitch Nicol
I started my journey into the world of The Smalls after a particularly heated argument in March, 2020, just after we had been locked out of our everyday lives for our own safety. I was pointing out that the Coronavirus, despite its effect on human health, did not make us ill on purpose. It did not vindictively attack us. There was no grand plan to destroy humanity and take over the world, no H.G. Wells-style invasion. The virus was just doing its thing, and very effectively at that.
I said that applying human intent to the virus was misdirected and unhelpful. This meant, I was told, that I didn’t care about what was happening, that I was evil incarnate. But I did care. I was just fascinated by how the virus did what it does. And I was fascinated by the way we personify everything. We make it about “us”, to the extent that we miss the truth of the nature of all things. We learn little that could help us connect with and, more importantly, respect the natural world around us.
When I was at school, in what was then called “PE” (I still have trauma responses when I see black plimsolls), we were encouraged to pretend to be a tree. Which is fine, good for encouraging imagination and movement, but we were never encouraged to be a tree, to really notice its leaves, its stems, to think about how it lived, the processes going on inside it, how it was attached the earth but could still move in the air, how it could aim for the sun, gain nutrients from the soil, even communicate with other trees via the mycelium network (although in 1973 this idea was some way off, and would probably get you sectioned and locked up). I wanted to feel what it was to be a tree, not just wave my arms around.
When I began to study shamanism in the 80’s, I had the pleasure and honour of spending time “being” with the “other-than human”, by using shamanic journeying techniques – connecting with these others, trying to see and understand them as they really are.
I started journeying with/as animals – because they are the closest to humans in terms of movement, motivation, behaviours. Then I journeyed with/as plants. Then stone. If you want to feel deep calm, infinite patience, time slowed to a degree that is almost inconceivable, a fundamental release of control, I very much recommend journeying with stone. Journeying with planets – that will REALLY blow your mind.
Then, following my argument about Covid19, I discovered microanimism.
I became aware of microanimism via Siv Watkins, who spoke at a shamanism course I attended. I was immediately mesmerised (and a little bit smitten). A doctor of microbiology, Siv came to microanimism through her work, combined with her study of the ritual/esoteric arts and technology. Through her, I discovered the diverse, resilient and entirely essential, parallel world of microorganisms (or “biological dark matter” as she describes it).
Microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses. Microorganisms are everywhere, in everything, and on everything, including you. When people say, often flippantly, that “everything is connected”, it really is connected, at a fundamental and often, reciprocal level. All this connectivity goes on, all the time, everywhere. Plants, for instance, depend upon fungi and algae. Sometimes, together, they create new forms of life. Lichen is a combination of fungi and algae – a gestalt made up of two kinds of completely different beings.
Then there’s us. We are, whether we like it or not, the world on which countless other-than-human beings live their lives. We are dependent on them for our health, quite probably, for your wellbeing. There’s been an explosion of new knowledge about the relationship between gut health and the flora that lives in our digestive system. They depend on you for somewhere to live, for food, for all of their needs.
And so to microanimism, a conflation of the terms microbiology and animism. Microbiology, the study of microbes, and animism, the attribution of sentience to things that are other than human. The concept of microanimism encourages us to consider and value the tiny things, and their relation to everything on earth. Microanimists, of which there are a fast growing number, refer to these tiny things as The Smalls.
As Siv Watkins says, once we realise there are other than human beings wandering our planet alongside us, it’s good to be polite to them, at the very least. I wanted to be more than polite. I wanted to connect with them, to understand them, and so I started to imagine what it was to be them. In doing so I realised, to a startling extent, how deeply humans are interconnected with The Smalls. I realised the price we pay for ignoring, even misunderstanding them.
If you want to know more about The Smalls and the interconnectivity of the natural world, the book Entangled Life: how fungi shapes our futures, by Merlin Sheldrake, is one which I cannot recommend enough. Merlin’s parents were friends of the inimitable Terence McKenna, and it shows.
If you want a more visceral exploration of The Smalls, try this:
Meeting The Smalls
- Find a shamanic drumming track. Michael Harner: Shamanic Journey on YouTube is a good, solid, 15 minute recording.
- Close your eyes and get comfortable. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Mentally put down the things clamouring for attention. Mentally note you can come back to them in a bit. Make mental space to journey.
- Allow yourself to sink down into the lower world, the place of nature unfettered by human technology. Find a way downwards in your mind. Go into a hole in a tree or a cave entrance, imagine yourself descending to a place where there is only natural landscapes, where you feel completely safe. If you don’t feel fundamentally safe, keep going down.
- If it helps, I imagine a tunnel going down and down, then jump over a high waterfall into a deep pool below. I somehow just “pop up” in the lower world after doing that.
- Get comfy in the lower world. Sit down, lie down, whatever works.
- Now, consider The Smalls. Where they are, what they are doing, why they are doing it. Imagine what it would be like to be them. Let your humanity go. Don’t attribute your human needs to them. Just imagine being them.
- When you hear a faster drumming noise, that’s the call to end your journey. You don’t have to come back the way you arrived, you can just open your eyes. Give yourself a moment, drink some water, then write down (or voice record) everything that happened. Explore it later.
It may be useful to have some basic understanding of whichever small you are wanting to connect with before you begin your journey– but it’s not essential. Just the intention of wanting to understand The Smalls can lead to useful insights into their diverse, resilient, and ultimately vital world. You may learn some important lessons for humanity and human culture in the process.
Find out more about microanimism at microanimism.com 🦐
Aitch Nicol is neurospicier than a really hot wing. They have no idea what they are doing. They do it anyway.