Nøkken – End of the Year Essay Project (2021)

2021 was filled with a lot of pain and many difficult and incomplete journeys continuing into this year (which probably will continue for the foreseeable future). Some things are too personal and unresolved now for me to feel comfortable writing about until I have more answers and questions to follow them. And some aspects are private and sacred so aren’t for public display (an idea that I personally haven’t always respected in myself, that some practices and personal and sacred knowledge should remain closed to most, and that it is okay for me to not talk about them in public). Many of my explorations and growth have had to do with what path I am walking in learning about this human life’s heritage, and also my relations to others from a spiritual, academic and political standpoint. Expanding our perspectives often comes with some degree of existential dread, which I have tried to temper as much as possible by recognizing that this dread is simply caused by new information and knowledge that expands perspective (and therefore is a good thing).

One of my explorations is reaching some key understandings now. It began years ago but I’d started arriving at some important conclusions in 2020 during the beginning of the pandemic. This concerns a relation between being nonhuman, the music I make, and historic ethnic-spiritual perspectives that were destroyed by colonization. My human body is of Magyar (Hungarian) descent, and I have become deeply interested in revival of this life’s human ancestors’ shamanistic spirituality. I have been exploring understandings of nonhumanity from the lens of those practices and how humans encountered beings like me, particularly nonhuman/animal spirits who occupy human lives. It has been deeply enlightening to engage in cross-cultural and comparative spirituality among Uralic peoples, and I have been studying the mythologies of Magyar, Mansi, Khanty, Finnish and Sámi, engaging and experimenting with practices, and discussing with many others who come from similar but different ethnic backgrounds from my own. Uralic peoples share a history of a particular kind of centralized animal/plant/nonhuman worship and the practice of shamanism and animism. What I have found is that in these Indigenous perspectives, there is a rich and extremely complex worldview with intricate knowledge of how different beings and spirits relate to each other in the wider ecosystem of spirits that cannot be distilled down to simplistic terms at all. It is all particular knowledge. In other words, there are not grandiose “generalizations” of metaphysics that one sees so much of in “Western” monotheistic spirituality, but rather an actually complex “empirical” knowledge-base that is grounded in experiences and through learning particular details about other kinds of beings, spirits, relations, paths, etc. via observation, communication with them, exchange, experimentation, exploration and so on. Due to colonialist destruction of many Indigenous traditions, it is rare to find such complex understandings of the more-than-human world and the ecosystem of life and spirits. Most human systems are human-centric (anthropocentric) and have ridiculously simplified and exploitative perspectives of nonhuman life and spirits bordering on total ignorance.

Encountering and learning about complex worldviews that seat nonhumanity as the central spirituality has reshaped my perspective about humans to some degree: that human peoples who have maintained closer relationships with other-than-human Life and Land have been exchanging knowledge with spirits for a long time and so have a much deeper understanding of their embeddedness with nonhuman life. With Mansi, for example, who are my human body’s ancestors’ closest relatives, there is a traditional belief that they are all bird spirits. Once a Mansi person dies, they relive a reverse of their life until they are reincarnated, usually into some kind of insect or arachnid. There is nothing negative at all about this. It’s just viewed as how a spirit progresses from their human life as most Mansi persons. (I learned this from a very rare publication I tracked down called “Encyclopedia of Uralic Mythologies: Mansi Mythology” which was a collaborative effort between some of the foremost anthropological scholars of shamanistic spirituality across Eastern Europe.) The path a spirit takes varies tremendously based upon relations and the path the human person’s life was on. Obviously this would not apply the same way to many other-than-human spirits who are living within human lives (or just other humans who are not other-than-human beings like I am). We are not Mansi, and therefore would not be viewed as following the same path as most Mansi. These paths embody a relationality with the world, so to be Mansi, entails being with and as other beings in certain ways. There is a multitude of paths of growth and development of the spirit and reincarnation within these worldviews. This is expressed through kin-groups, that is “belonging to a people” entails more common patterns of being and becoming, of growth and change of the spirit. It is not reductive, as if all Mansi will experience things the same way, or all Bear-People would either (bears-as-bears and bears-as-humans, the physical form of the bear spirit does not matter, one is a bear either way). In Mansi, Por refers to the bear and Bear-People, and means “forest beast”, “meadow beast”. This would also refer to the Northern Mansi phratry who are bears, their Ancestor and nature of spirit being Bear. This is distinguished from Mos’ which is the Norther Mansi phratry who are She-Goose and/or She-Hare. So said people would refer to themselves as Mos’-people, literally She-Geese/She-Hare-People. That is what they are.

Whereas “Western” colonialist societies tend to lack spiritual knowledge of anything but human interests (or what they think are human interests), Uralic peoples maintain extremely complex understandings of the relations and paths of other-than-human spirits, even if those do not necessarily concern their own personal lives and paths. This “knowledge of the nonhuman Other” exists as a consequence of being present with other-than-human beings in an equal and respectful way, giving and receiving information, observing and learning from Others. It situates an ordering of nature which is horizontal, a vast plane of varying differences and relations, rather than the vertical hierarchic “ladders” of colonialist societies which place everything that isn’t human beneath humans as subordinate and “deprived” of being (and humans are only placed beneath their monotheistic god who apparently doesn’t care about anything else in the universe but them).

I should clarify that these ideas are nothing new to me. I am an animist, and that is how I experience the world. It appears to me as being as obvious as breathing. But what is striking is discovering human cultures that understand this as simply a baseline and that I am able to actually learn about them in depth. For me, I had assumed that most of humanity was simply ignorant of all of this. Ultimately, encounters with these complex worldviews of more-than-human being and Otherness have offered some pressing questions.

Those who know me know I am a misanthrope in no uncertain terms. I have grown up stripped of my ethnic heritage due to the circumstances of my family who are disasporic and experienced racism in the U.S. And I have been surrounded my whole life by the horrible and utterly callous views of nonhuman life that saturate the society I grew up in. There is absolutely nothing of any of the worldviews I have grown up surrounded by in the U.S. that I share. Simply walking outside my door, I am filled with disgust at the world I see, the grotesque lights, billboards, humans pathetically trying to control every aspect of nature with their murderous “grass farm” yards. I am disgusted by all the humanity I see surrounding me, almost everything they do, are, and stand for. I experience most “human” things with this level of utter disgust, not even to speak of downright monstrous ideologies and exploitation of the living world. I hold that level of disgust just for “ordinary” human life and behaviors in this society. This has shaped my misanthropy towards humanity. I wish to vomit every day I wake up and see the shear hatred that festers in this rotten species. And all of this is an understatement. Words cannot describe my loathing for it.

So, in unveiling healthier and more complex relationships that humans have had with us as nonhuman beings, this necessarily has brought out conflicted feelings and pain. Not all humans’ relationships with nonhumanity and the Land and Living World has been one of exploitation and subjugation, especially those of my human ancestors* who were a nomadic Uralic people and who were subjugated by Empire, Christianity, forced assimilation and genocide—their oral traditions utterly decimated. I have had to face and question some of the misanthropic feelings I have to examine their truth. I don’t think it is possible to fully elucidate this as doing so would require a significantly longer essay, but I will attempt to at least sketch the various relations I have observed.

My misanthropy has largely been a product of the way humans behave, both my experiences of them and what they have done to the living world and more specifically my kind, horses. Much of humanity’s relations with nonhumanity has been that of exploitation, slavery, genocide, innumerably many atrocities. There is no sugar-coating any of that. Humans can violently decimate entire species for their own gains with little or no remorse. And a lot of the relations that I see between humans and nonhumans is exploitation that is placed into a self-delusion of “uplifting other species” through domestication (i.e. stripping them of their entire identities and making them compliant little slaves for humans’ benefit). The self-deluding behavior is pervasive in human-centric environmentalism where other species “must be protected” ultimately for humans’ benefit and no other reason. We see this where wildlife refuges are commoditized as theme parks for American consumerism. It is just a very large zoo for human gawking (and also a facade for mining and cattle grazing for the agricultural industry to exploit so-called “public” land for private interests). It is a function of anthropocentrism and human supremacism/human exceptionalism. But something that reshaped my understanding of this is a closer examination of how “human supremacism” also translates into the same treatment of other humans based on their ethnicities, cultures, spiritualities. It is nothing I wasn’t unfamiliar with, but recent explorations have made that sense much more poignant personally.

A lot of these human supremacist ideologies are located in religious and ideological views related to colonialism, “civilization”, whiteness and white supremacism. This does not mean that human supremacism reduces down to any of those. But human supremacism does manifest itself in the form of white supremacism particularly in the “West” especially when humans, such as my current human life, are considered less-than-human for our ethnicities, genders, neuroatypicality, spirituality, indigeneity, etc. This realization for me links struggles of nonhuman and human oppression together as mirrors of each other, and it has helped me to better understand my own experiences of oppression as both nonhuman and human.

This also recognizes the interconnectedness of nonhuman and human oppression in general. The wildlife refuges I mentioned before were literally stolen from Native Americans. And for those unfamiliar, there is not a sense that “land is property owned by Native Americans” which is a construct of settler-colonialism. The idea is actually the opposite, that human peoples view(ed) themselves as belonging to the Land, and thus as stewards whose work is to help the Land and all its other-than-human peoples thrive, so that they might thrive together. Native Americans were robbed of their lifeways and of their Land, just as every people belonging to the Land (other-than-human animal peoples, plant peoples, all living peoples included), are also robbed of their Land. Land in this sense is a shared communal space that belongs to everyone and no one. So the process of robbing the Land involves settling it, by the treatment of it as “property belonging to a certain group”, in this case “U.S. citizens”, settler-colonialist humans, rather than the Native peoples, both human and other-than-human, who belong to the Land and to whom the Land belongs. Belonging is not the same as “owning”. When we speak of Land in this sense, it is a collective of all peoples. The Land in an animistic sense is composed of all life-as-persons, which includes mountains, rivers, the air as people too. So Land-belonging, is mutually belonging to each other across species because our interdependent relationships and equal desert (in the philosophical moral sense) to live and thrive.

I had found an extremely good essay last year titled “Wild Horses, Buffalo and the Politics of Belonging” about this and Native American ecological stewardship. It discusses how the “politics of belonging” differs in Native environmentalism versus settler-colonialist environmentalism, where settler-colonialists view horses as an invasive species but don’t view themselves as humans as invasive (nor especially their cattle ranches, as the article mentions), while Native environmentalists believe in negotiation of shared Land so that both the buffalo and wild horses have a right to it and a right to live and thrive. To a settler-colonialist, “belonging” means ownership, possession—its meaning is a denial of belonging to others, to say “this is mine, not yours.” It requires the violent maintenance of its borders of ownership and possession, defined as a form of denial to others. It is the absence of relation. Property is the purposeful suppression of belonging, of access and use. In the Native sense of “belonging”, we belong to each other, we belong to groups, we belong to the Land, the Land belongs to us in the sense that we belong to each other, and “us” is all life, all life-as-persons. Ownership is not a concept. And belonging is borderless. A traditional Sámi song “The Shaman and the Thief” also illustrates this meaning of the Land. It was recorded in a collaboration between a Norwegian and a Sámi singer. The Norwegian singer Moddi’s sung lyrics represent a Christian missionary who claims that the land doesn’t belong to Sámi but to the Christian god and says that the Sámi cannot own the plants and such, only their god can (and by implication, only Christians as “a kingdom of god”….the missionary’s “house”). The Sámi singer Mari Boine’s sung lyrics represents the Sámi shaman responding that the missionary is not part of this Land and doesn’t understand it, so it doesn’t belong to them and they don’t belong to it, because to belong to a Land is to be part of the complex relationships of all persons who inhabit the Land, thereby inhabit each other. At the end of the recording we hear a traditional Sámi singing called “joik” which was outlawed in Norway and carries an interconnectedness to Land and Life who compose it in the very act of singing without words, itself composed of natural vocalizations other spirits and animals. In an interview “The Story Behind ‘The Shaman and the Thief'”, Moddi talks with Mari Boine about her heritage and the theft of identity, something that I related to deeply from both my nonhuman nature and my ethnic heritage in this human life. (By the way, “The Shaman and the Thief” was a real historic altercation that happened between a Sámi shaman and a Christian missionary.)

So, it wasn’t just that the shamanistic spirituality of my human ancestors (and related human ancestors between Uralic peoples) was taken from me before I was born into this life, but that shamanistic spirituality also bore an entire complex worldview and evolving knowledge of what I am, who I am, and roles in life as a nonhuman animal spirit. It has taken and continue to takes tremendous work to reclaim that heritage and to explore my nonhuman nature through the lens of such worldviews. The violence done to those worldviews and peoples, my human ancestors, involves an erasure of the knowledge I would have had ready access to for understanding myself as a nonhuman spirit had I’d grown up immersed in the heritage and traditions I gained a relation to by being born into this human life as I was, a life borrowed from humans, carrying its history and relations to them and their relations to my kind, horses. The violence of colonialism is a violence whose effects carry forward through the centuries on those living in the present for whom the societies we are born into have no knowledge of our being whatsoever as nonhuman spirits and furthermore deny we even exist. We cannot look to the societies we are born into for any possibility of knowledge or understanding of our being. Any such references to us either outright deny our existence, or they are embedded in Christianity which treats us as “evil spirits” and “demons”; the only thing they have to say about us is that “we are bad and shouldn’t exist.”

This is one meaning of “ancestral trauma”, a trauma suffered by both horse and human in me. The theft of Identity and of Land are interwoven. Identity isn’t just what we are ourselves. It is what we are in relation to other beings. A Land is not just a place, it is the entirety of relations of the living persons that comprise it, other-than-human and human, the mountains, the rivers, the soil, the animals (and humans who are only animals), the plants, the fungi, the nonphysical spirits: all persons. So the destruction of shamanistic worldviews is also a destruction of worlds, Land. It is the destruction of the sacred relationships all living spirits and peoples, all life, shared in the Land they mutually composed, now colonized and erased by Christianity. And with that colonization, Land is destroyed, it is rendered down to “an inanimate place”, and all living beings reduced to “mere property that belongs to the colonizer”, no longer treated as persons. With that is the destruction of the traditional knowledge that humans had collected through generations of sharing in living with the Land. Destruction of Land is destruction of relations and relationality between beings, and thus the destruction of Identity. It isn’t just Life that is lost, but how Life all relates to each other. There is a profound violence upon knowledge and relatedness, a destruction of the very recognition of Life, Land, and Identity, embodied in the rendering of the Land into a colonized possession. The Land is dispossessed of their self-ownership by colonialism, their life and being, and the mutual ownership of the relations all living persons of the Land (all life) has to each other. It is like an act of psychic murder. Land as a person made of peoples reduced to a “mere property”, “a thing without people owned by another people,” the colonizer.

The goal of colonialism and genocidal violence has been “the taming of life” and the theft and conquering of Land, and this includes both humans and nonhumans. It is a process of murdering the interrelatedness of Life and Land for the sake of “production” and “ownership”. Colonialism’s goal is to “humanize/civilize” peoples who did not fall into conformity with white supremacism’s concept of “the properly human” (and those who did not conform includes both humans and nonhumans). Likewise, this applied to the entire Living World and Land which needed to be “tamed and domesticated” to be made compliant to the implicit human supremacism (humans as owners and rulers “to which everything belongs and is made for”) within white supremacism (and visa versa). As a result, the destruction of the more-than-human living world, wildlife and wildlife’s cultures and spiritualities is concomitant with the destruction of human peoples, cultures and spiritualities who lived with rather than against the more-than-human world, mutually sharing in being and life with all the Land’s peoples (animals, plants, mountains, streams, etc.). That is quite literally what happened to my human ancestors. And it is what is more recently happening here on Turtle Island.

Many Native spiritualities are and were focused on cooperation, collaboration and living with the more-than-human community of life. This includes my own human heritage. And many human peoples are victims of the same mechanisms of anthropocentrism that my nonhuman brothers and sisters, my kind, are. It is easy to overgeneralize misanthropy to “humanity as a whole” but this thinking I have held onto for a long time carries with it the seed of anthropocentrism that I am vehemently against. I have often denied the existence of “humanity as a whole” because logically “humanity” is a philosophical-cultural construct and not a real thing. “Humanity” is just a set of “moral and cultural impositions” on how “proper humans” are “supposed to be,” the culture they are “supposed” to have, the beliefs they are “supposed” to hold, the behaviors they are “supposed” to engage in. The concept of a “collective humanity” and “inherent human nature” arose in the Christian humanism of colonial Europe. “Humanity” is an oppressive concept, one that is used by colonialist ideologies to impose subjugation and violence on both humans and nonhumans. By categorizing life into “humanity” and “nonhuman”, oppression can move beings between one or the other categories arbitrarily in order to justify violent subjugation. The concept of “humanity” the manufactures concept of “nonhuman” because it defines “nonhuman” as “thing to be subjugated by itself”. So, I have always rejected the concept of “humanity” itself. I don’t believe anyone is actually human or that there is such a thing as a “human being”. By extension, there is really no such thing as “nonhuman” entirely either, but I do use this term for pragmatic purposes. My human ancestors did not have a word for “human”. There was no such thing. They were all wolves, bears, horses, turuls, and so on. The words for them did not distinguish species, nor distinguish human from nonhuman. The word for “wolf” was simply “farkas”, “the one with the tail.” We did not refer to sacred peoples of the Land by direct names, but rather indirect descriptions. For a human to be named “Farkas”, which is a common Hungarian name, is for them to literally be Wolf. Names were not arbitrary, but were called from the spirit world during naming ceremonies by the shaman and denoted what one actually is, not what one is merely called.

I should also note that without a concept of humanity, there is also no concept of nonhumanity. There is a complex reason for us to call ourselves nonhuman despite this. Whether we choose to accept a concept of humanity or not, many humans do, and it is embedded in colonialist cultures. So we are defined as “nonhuman” in relation to them and the concept of “humanity” they produced. Just as there would be no need to use the term Native if there wasn’t a non-Native colonizer to contrast. In this sense, humanity and nonhumanity are like political lines of kinship. My nature and being is horse. I am a horse. My ontological nature and being is different from (but related to as all beings are related to each other) humans who consider themselves human. However, whether a horse is defined as not-human by humans (and visa versa, with us horses having the agency to accept or reject humans into our kin-groups and kin-relations), that is the politics of kinship in play. In the society of my human ancestors, I would still be a horse because that is my actual self and being (it is my metaphysical nature, what I am, regardless of human politics and names), but there would be no need for a concept of “nonhuman.” That is why my expression that “I am a horse” wouldn’t be treated as “insane” or “ridiculous” to ancient Magyar. I would simply be, to them, a horse-who-is-Magyar. “Magyar” which is a cognate of “Mansi”, simply means “(us) people”. This is akin to Evenki who traditionally hunt with dogs who have lived with them throughout their shared history: a human and a dog are both Evenki and called Evenki. They become Evenki by living together and learning together; it is a relationality of living, rather than an ontological nature, a kind of contract of lifeways. A human child not raised with an Evenki dog child is not Evenki. A dog child raised without a Evenki human child is also not Evenki. They are only Evenki if they are both raised together as Evenki. (“Stories about Evenki People and their Dogs: Communication through Sharing Contexts” in Animism in Rainforest and Tundra.)

But I never really confronted how that relates to my misanthropic feelings, and that total misanthropy actually requires this concept of “humanity” and therefore is overgeneralization just as much as the concept of “humanity” is. Or at least, I am drawing a kind of political kinship-relation by expressing that they are human. Misanthropy places the onus of ecocide upon the totality of humans without any nuance for the complex relationships of oppression and subjugation between humans. But there is no “totality of humans”. Humans are not a monolith, nor are they “unified, uniform and completely ubiquitous”. Oftentimes humans are opponents of each other, especially in the conflict between Native stewardship of the Land and white settler-colonialism. The point is that humans don’t have to be monsters to other life, and historically, and depending on the culture and human, they aren’t. This has led me to recognize the inherent need for total liberation, that is between humans and nonhumans both subjugated by the wider network of Empire, colonialism and supremacism, one that does not overgeneralize misanthropy to a concept of “humanity” but one that is critical of problematic human behaviors and beliefs. This doesn’t mean, however, that I am going to let go of “criticizing humans” and “humanity”. The idea of misanthropy is intellectually very useful. It allows us to engage in criticisms of human behavior that ignore fictional borders or cross different groups of humans. Humans are guilty of general problematic behaviors, regardless of their ethnicity or groupings. My human ancestors were not “blameless” in how they treated other life (I’ll get to this in a moment).

A lot of this, for me, was personally expressed and explored through the lens of reclamation of heritage, particularly exploring my own nonhumanity through Magyar shamanistic spirituality. And with that came a lot of pain as well. My human body’s ancestors were quite literally animal worshipers. Their entire beliefs centered on respect for the living world, cooperation, and co-habitation. They were nomadic Uralic peoples who had migrated Westward eventually into the Carpathian basin. In fact, they sought to learn from other species whom they held respect as teachers. One did not simply praise oneself for having come up with anything. Rather, all knowledge they possessed was not theirs, but belonged to the Land and the nonhumans spirits and beings who had taught them it. That culture placed nonhuman animal spirits into the roles of spiritual guides and teachers. Magyar “shamans” often were nonhuman spirits, with many being the spirits that most prominently interacted with each tribe, whether aurochs, horse, turul, wolf, deer, maral, etc.

I have learned a great deal about this and continue to do so by both academic research and by my own spiritual journeying. It is both a personal and impersonal process of attaining knowledge, one that involves studying history, anthropology and archaeology as well as personal engagement from the standpoint of being a horse spirit within a human life, actual spiritual practices, journeying, and so on.

And the pain of it is not always easy to process. Learning about and from one’s human ancestors also involves recognizing how much of an absolute failure they could be: how any human of any time period and any ethnicity was capable of the anthropocentric delusions that they are today. For example, what pained me to learn the most about was how much sacrifice of white horses was a part of Magyar culture. It worked as a kind of bribe to kill my kind for the sake of getting favor from a deity, as a result there are many grave-sites where the remains of sacrificed horses lie.

So, I have to resolve the fact that their culture was nonhuman-centric, that they actually focused on nonhumanity as the center of their entire worldview, and yet despite this, the seeds of anthropocentric brutality were still embedded in their viewpoint…they thought it justifiable to engage in animal sacrifice for their own gains, to appease deities, to violently bleed knowledge out of the Land for their own favor. I imagine they might have told themselves that it was “out of respect”, that they “were honoring horses by sacrificing them” but that manifestation of the self-same delusion that humans engage in when they abuse nonhuman animals and delude themselves that it is for their benefit. This is particularly difficult to grapple with, as I was a sacrifice in a previous life.

It is tempting when looking at Magyar horse sacrifice for me as a horse spirit to reel in so much disgust that I hate the ancestors of the human life I currently occupy. The behavior was, to me, unquestionably monstrous and profoundly selfish. But that is not critical. It is reaction, not response. Reaction would be “to uncritically abandon exploring this because of horrible things people did.” The fact that they did those things does not imply that there is no spiritual knowledge, that their entire worldview was problematic. But that fallibility does not excuse what they did either. There is a balance in relating to the past as a living being in the present that requires me to critically use what is good and criticize what is problematic.

On the surface, it seems deeply angering that the role of horses in much of Finno-Ugric beliefs was that of “spirits to be exploited”. My kind were/are often seen as being the “vehicles” for humans to journey to other spiritual realms. Now, admittedly, this is being told through the lens of English anthropology, which loses all nuance with the original sources and in-group cultural viewpoints. In a lot of those sacred spiritual practices, we are not “mere vehicles”. Actually, the human shaman (because my human ancestors distinguished between human-spirited shamans and incarnated nonhuman shamans) often worked with a horse spirit who was their teacher and guide. It was a relationship, rather than a form of exploitation. The human shaman had to develop a relationship of honoring, respect, trust, and they became a servant of Life and Land, guided by a horse or other spirit. This is why the horse spirit would choose to work with them. So, the uncritical knee-jerk reaction to the way anthropology talks about this would be “anger at horses being ridden as tools even in spiritual depictions”. A critical look at this asks “why are these relationships being depicted as exploitation when academics talk about them when they aren’t in the original culture? How much of that is a reflection of the academics’ cultural and ideological bias projected upon Native viewpoints?” That depiction of an exploitative relationship originates out of settler-colonialism that interprets and talks about this this way in English, the lingua franca of imperialism. Diving deeper into understanding these relationships reveals that is a misinterpretation and a misrepresentation. It is settler-colonialist academia projecting its own human-centric biases upon Native cultures.

While I know that the horse deity was of central importance to many Finno-Ugric peoples, there is also that legacy of anthropocentrism through Christianization by which symbols of horse deities were transformed eventually into “a human rider over a horse” which has influenced more contemporary practices of shamanism among Finno-Ugric peoples with shamanistic heritage. We see this in depictions of the World-Surveyor-Man (a central shamanistic deity in Uralic traditions) as being “a master over a Horse”. But again, this is possibly a product of the academic, not the ur-culture. It is not the World-Surveyor-Man who heals but actually the Horse. It is said that the Horse merely has to point their nose at a being to help them heal. Such a thing is suggestive that the relationship between Horse and the World-Surveyor-Man is not a matter of “rider-over-ridden”, but equal collaborators with their own powers. However, such depictions of “master over” and “rider” are impossible to avoid encountering by researching Finno-Ugric spiritualities even among contemporary practitioners. Christian colonization and decimation of my human ancestors’ beliefs were quite thorough, and over hundreds of years, what remains are fragments given a Christian and human-centric paint job. People did not instantly convert or relinquish their traditions. Gradual erosion, assimilation and genocide of spiritual-cultural heritage is a slow process by which people forget who they are and what their beliefs mean. Over time, animal gods are transformed into mere folk tales, and then gradually into human folk heroes. And the actual beings—the spirits humans once respected and conversed with—they are no longer seen by those humans at all, replaced entirely by the human-centric image that Christianity or another conquering religion has instilled into them through violence—spiritual and physical violence on their beings and beliefs.

Hierarchic thinking and the subjugation of nonhuman life in Finno-Ugric and related shamanistic spiritualities also have an intrinsically anthropocentric element that contradicts the horizontal equality of all life in relation to each other.

Note about Evenki

Being critical has required me to question aspects of my misanthropy, to explore ways of relating between nonhumans and humans that are not inherently of the pattern of the latter exploiting the former.

This does not mean that the underlying misanthropic sentiment I hold for the kinds of genocidal/ecocidal and exploitative human behaviors is wrong. It is quite well-placed. But it can be better placed, focused in on the problematic behaviors of their supremacist ideologies—their root beliefs and ideologies responsible for their behaviors. I can be critical of Magyar horse sacrifice while at the same time understanding that the Magyar ancestors of this body were not the absolute exploitative shitbags that so much of modern industrialization is—that they respected the living world and lived with it, gave to the Land, belonged to the Land, rather than take and take for their own selves.

We also cannot know the past as it was. Perhaps the act of horse sacrifice was not accepted by all. I imagine a human person who loudly rejects it, who tells the leaders of the tribe that it is desecration. I imagine some listened and some did not. We cannot learn anything at all from anything if we reject everything wholesale on account of its problematic parts.

This critical space for me, allows me to resolve my misanthropy with a need for total liberation of both nonhumans and humans from these systems of oppression.

I have engaged in this process of both reclamation of my human life’s human heritage and exploration of my own nonhumanity by re-centering what I do with music. I have been engaged in making my own Magyar folk instruments, and of recognizing the fundamental spirituality of music, music as part of living spirituality and spiritual practices, rather than a commodity to be bought and sold. Music was never just “music”. It was part of a deeply spiritual process. It was a place where the entire community of life met each other. Music belongs to all living beings, to the living waters, rocks, the air, to the animals, plants, fungi, of the land (including humans). Music is something more vital and lies deeper within existence than the ways I have been brought up by white colonialist cultures to view music as “merely something you consume and produce.” Music also goes deeper than communication between species. It is an act of living itself.

I cannot say too much more about music now because there is much that I am still exploring. But I will say that my being and spirit as a horse relates to music in a more fundamental way than I realized, and it has helped me understand the nature of horses and what we are better. Even through some the problematic aspects of exploitation in contemporary Finno-Ugric shamanism that is Christianized that places a “human rider above a horse”, my exploration of that has helped me open up paths to explore within my own nature and the nature of my kind, of music and rhythm, as well as chthonic and trickster dimensions. Human cultures did not just “make all this stuff up.” They tell stories and those stories are heavily influenced by their perceptions. But the core of these stories comes from the Land and from other spirits. They learned their stories from the Living World. What they know they do not know because they invented it, but because they were taught by other spirits and the Land. Native peoples recognize that that knowledge does not belong to them but belongs to the more-than-human living world we are all a part of. Those stories can be vehicles for self-exploration with a critical mind because they reveal possibilities that can be explored with more depth on one’s own and through being with the Land.

*For the sake of ease of writing, I will just use “my human ancestors” instead of “this human life’s human ancestors” to refer to Magyar people, but I distinguish between different kinds of ancestors, such as spirit-origin ancestors, ancestors of craft/trade/art, ancestors of bodily ethnicity, ancestors of the Land, etc. As a horse spirit, “my human ancestors” are not the same as “my Ancestors”, i.e. the Ancestors who compose my spirit and being and what I am as a horse spirit, the Ancestors, and my own spirit, who overshadow this mere human life I currently am incarnated into. So, if I say “my ancestors” I am not referring to humans at all. But if I say “my human ancestors”, I am referring to Magyar who bear the most significant human relationality I currently have.