On Circularity from the Perspective of the Wilderness

By Nøkken


In many pagan circles, there is a lot of talk about “circularity” or the “cyclical nature of existence”. I think a lot of people make the mistake of identifying this with what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche expressed as “eternal recurrence” (Nietzsche, “Notes on Eternal Recurrence”), an almost fatalistic view of history in which the mistakes of the past are destined to be repeated. Nietzsche viewed this pessimistically, and it should be noted that, despite his attempts at seeking to escape from a humanistic mindset through his process of philosophy, this view of history is decided very anthropocentric/ humancentric.

Whether this “eternal recurrence” is viewed in a positive or negative light is largely based on the ideology of the individual, whether it is an inescapable horror or something of a deity to be respected. However, I do not view “circularity” in this respect, and I think this is quite out of line with a nonhumanist view. That is, if human history, the “anthropological,” as philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes it, “the anthropological machine” (Agamben, “The Open: Man and Animal”), is taken as the centrality of meaning, then qualities are given to its supposed “circularity” based upon what can only be presumed to have been “human perspectives” in the first place. It is almost as if “human history” is being treated as all that matters and this pessimism or optimism in the face of “circularity” is a function of “grand designs for human destiny” and/or “the inability to escape a fate.” That is, it only is given a pessimistic or sublime optimistic character based upon circularity’s relations to “human destiny and civilization.” The problem here is that it ends up treating the human subject as the end-all-be-all of existence. And so it is a foregone conclusion, one that is made in both haste, error and hubris. We reject that view of humanity as the center of the universe. What then happens to circularity from the perspective of ecocentrism, or from our perspectives from the wilderness.

In my views, humanity matters nothing at all, especially not in any grander concept of Life as merely one single organism. Well, it has made itself consequential, even if miniscule, by its eradication of so much life. We must remember that it is settler-colonial forces of “humanity” (or rather, so-called “Western civilization”) that are responsible for this, those forces of modernism and human supremacy that believe the world is made for humankind alone. But I am here talking about ontological meaning and not ecological impact. Ontologically speaking, in the turning mechanisms of Life and Being, humanity doesn’t matter. In fact, it is a mere infant in the scheme of animal life, spirits of animals which stretch back immense eons before homo sapiens even came into being, the true ancestors of the world. Indigenous peoples recognize this. But settler-colonial cultures are indignant like toddlers. Us nonhuman and animal spirits and beings have persisted here long before they walked upon two legs. Against the sidereal or cosmic perspective, their grasping at meaning and “human destiny” seem to be the futility of child that imagines themselves to be a god.

“Human history” then seems a trivial thing when stacked against the history of evolution and the emergence of all multitudes of lives and spirits. The wisdom born through incomprehensible ages in the spirits of the Earth and the master spirits of species. So this true Circularity is much grander than humanity and the limitations of Nietzsche’s imagination, who was very much still a product of the Christian moralism he sought to reject. Whether it is horror or sublime is entirely based upon the meaning the individual has attached to it. For wild animals and the wilderness, all this human-centric meaning and “human history” is irrelevant. The Cycles exists for their own sake and we are but the living Blood which bears witness in awe. Our bodies in motion, and the rhythms of life working by their own patterns, whether the footfalls of a deer, or the rapidly beating heart of a humming bird. Rhythm composes our existence, and our existence composes the rhythms of these cycles, from the breathing of bodies up to the sighing of a climate system, down to the reproduction of cells dividing. These currents and flows of rhythm express a kind of always-changing Circularity of their own accord, circles within circles within circles, interlocking, composing, singing, all for our own sakes.

What seems to be lacking in the “human-centric” viewpoint is the recognition that the rest of the world is these churning and grand hyperobjects of motion and rhythm, spiraling towards all our own ends. Our ends, our reasons, our beings are moving in their own ways without “human meaning,” and, at best, humans can recognize their “meaning” is part of a larger, grander, more-than-human, living world. Every body in motion, ever being, whether a tree, or an ant colony, whether a river or an entire ecosystem, whether a rock or a dog, are all alive from the animistic perspective. And from the wilderness, we are co-operating and conflicting, instances of violence, peace, joy, mutual beneficence, antagonism, indifference, all these weaving and interlocking threads of being, all with their own reasons, motives, purposes. The spirits of the world, the living spirits in all things, are a constant twisting and snaking rhythm of their own agendas. We can talk of a spiritual ecosystem, in which some spirit-beings are predatory, some prey, some are creating, some destroying, some interfacing, some curious, some desiring, others passive. The spiritual ecosystem is filled with guardians, interlopers, composers, destroyers, consumers, givers, helpers, detractors, tricksters and innumerably many beings with even more motives. So many “humans” look at the world with starry-eyed “love and light,” while others look at everything nonhuman with abject horror, as a monster. And the truth is that we are all of these things and none of them. Some beings might appear helpful but are really exploitative. Some beings might appear monstrous or cruel tricksters, but it is revealed that really, the “human” was the monster and the nonhuman was only teaching them the monstrosity of their own prejudices. So many “humans” throw themselves at the feet of beings that use them or don’t care about them. And other “humans” are entitled, thinking that their spiritual guides are there for their every bidding, seeking to take and use other spiritual beings’ like they do to the material world as well.

In the spiritual wilderness, you can be eaten, and “humans” are not the top of the food chain by even the remotest, laughable boast.

In an animistic view, these are all folded together. There are animal, plant, elemental, and all kinds of other spirits that are imminent in the world right here with us. Us wild animal spirits largely watch, or perhaps engage “humans” with the desire to show errors in the ways of “civilization” and endless greed. I am an old horse spirit.

As wild animals, we express existence in a constantly unfolding experience of it, through our sensuous bodies, through the fractals of vivid being, through our own beings and ends. We experience events that occur in repetition and we experience breaks in this repetition that lead to new emergence of repetitions. The concept thus becomes a physical presentation of experience embedded in each moment of animate being, and therefore it is de-anthropocentric. “Human history” is reduced to a mere mote of dust of this grander process of being-becoming, whereby our existences as wild animals are not “static symbols for human concepts”. Life is not “nasty, brutish and short.” Rather, life is filled to the brim with joy, fear, desire, curiosity, rolling repetitions and transformational breaks, every moment alive, screaming fire in our being and the steady rhythms of the chorus of life. What I see in “humanity,” is a kind of deadness, an emptiness, a passivity, by which every animal instinct they have is rotting themselves into every self-destructive behavior one can imagine. In the wilderness, our screaming songs are honed with our flesh and spirit and instinct, for the ever-expanding unknown of living.

I have never interpreted circularity as anything but embedded cycles of homeostasis in life from micro to macro and within generalized naturalistic systems. That is, circularity is intrinsic to being, to living, it is the process of repetition, divergence, repetition, divergence, embedded at all levels of existence, whether they are on the cosmic scale of planetary rotations or within the very division and reproduction of cells within an organism, whether the ecological systems expressing ebb and flow of growth and decay, reordering of niches, whether the interactions between two life forms contribute or detract from each other. In other words, this circularity, or rather cyclicality is the constant, sublime and unfathomable complexity of mutual embeddedness, co-habitation, mutual composition of beings at all levels and networks of animacy and life. At this level, the conceptuality is true in a real physical way, but it should also be noted that for animistic spiritualities, the perspective I am approaching this from, the spiritual/nonphysical is presented to us inextricably bound with the physical, presented to us imminently.

To me, existence is a system/asystem of changing-stasis, both at once, and between stochasticity and laws both mutually composing and mutually undermining each other. The two collapse into each other to become a monad, a unity of change and stasis. I have always thought of ouroboros, the symbol of the serpent eating his/her tail, as expressing life-death as a mutual being/becoming in the lives of wild animals. In this way the world is alive, not just individual biological organisms, but in many ways, nothing is individual as all embedded layers of these cycles, folded in upon themselves and each other, is part of an amorphous, ambiguous living system, macro spirits, micro spirits, beings within beings and across beings. The spiritual world of the wilderness and nonhumanity is one filled with ambiguities and amorphousness, of overlap, co-composition, mutual beings, symbioses and parasitism, cooperation, beauty, grotesqueness and exquisite horror. It is no surprise that, “humans,” frail as they are, fear it. It is the violence of humans that seeks to cut apart the jungles of life with a machete of words, dividing beings into oppositional categories, setting itself as master of the world above the nonhuman. While they may have subjugated our wild existences physically, they are but a child who has found daddy’s gun. And in the deepest dwellings there are diseases, both physical and spiritual.

Within so-called “Western” civilization, a hard bifurcation has occurred where death is treated as an antithetical event to life and thus “Western” religions (i.e. modern colonialist beliefs) tend to theorize a radically distinct afterlife or no afterlife at all (as with atheism). These views inherently treat “the human” as the centrality of meaning and therefore have defined their views and structures of how they separate life from death based upon the continuity of “the human life” and whatever “human essence or soul” is supposed to comprise it, treated as distinct from the universe.

But in the wild view, of animism and unity with the living world, there is nothing so distinct or divergent about “the human”. It is only an animal, on embedded in the life-death process of existence, and thus may emerge again in multifarious forms. Even further in this vein, there is no true “individual.” We are each many, not each individuals, and yet we are at the same time. The continuities of being lie in our interconnections with life, through reincarnative cycles and transmigration. I find myself in a human life this time around, despite being a horse spirit. Death is nothing but a process of healing and rest, another being folded into this one. Death and life are indistinguishable, for all life costs other life death, and all life gives back what it has borrowed from the world in death to other life. It is “the human” which desires to split “life” and “death” into separate concepts, to make “life” a finitude of being in the pursuit of immortality (through their Christian beliefs in an “immortal unchanging soul” or through transhumanist medical technologies). Death is treated as evil, when Death is not. What we see is an imbalance, where “humans” no longer recognize themselves as part of a cycle of life-death, but rather see themselves as above it, trying to break it, pursuing life without death. They do not see their bodies as borrowed from the Land to be returned to the Land, borrowed from the Lives of others sacrificed so they may eat and live, to be returned as food themselves for other beings. And lo and behold, when you incur that debt again and again, the cycle will eventually come back to collect its due, with the mass extinctions that are currently in progress.

Outside of the aforementioned “Western views”, in the life-death of the undomesticated, the wild animals, death is embedded in the cyclic process of life at all levels, from the continuous dying and birth of our cells to the death we give by existing and our own death given back when another life will thrive from our demise. On a grand scale, cyclic processes at a solar level are occurring and can at once be disrupted and are decaying, such as an unstable orbit, or the potential for an extrasolar body to collide with a moon or planet. Repetition and interruption leads to an expression of a novel and yet old forms of the same. Each moment of animacy of existence is grown out of the previous and overlaps like tendrils of life emerging from the past and projecting the future into the present. And so, it is easy to see why concepts such as reincarnation, metempsychosis, rebirth and transmigration are a vital part of pagan animist views. We are constantly dying and being reborn within a life and between lives. There is no break in this seamless continuity of constant rebirth and death, occurring at every moment and across every span of time, and even the apparent schism that is the death of this particular body or life is only a veiled illusion, an event of divergence by which a new cyclic process emerges, and we are reborn as new living beings, whether another animal (not necessarily human) or something else. In my case, I view my own human life here, in this moment, as an anomaly, as the break in a stream of many previous existences as horse. That is, this human life is a mere extension of Horse, a piece of human which has been taken and claimed by it. In this respect, the human body-spirit is overshadowed entirely by the larger being, and yet both manifest together. It is a shared existence, one that is not comprehensible in terms of any “centrality of human history” (read modernist constructions of human destiny originating out of colonial Europe). Such an understanding of kinship with life-death and the species Earth sees the journey of being on a much grander scale, and it is fit into these oscillating cycles of being by which one is moved like leaves in wind in swirling patterns from one place to another. “Free will triumphant” is no longer a factor. “Free will” is never truly free, but nor is it predetermined. It pushed and pulled by the winds and fire of life. Will and Intention become navigating the tumultuous sea of the storm of existence, each individual diverging and converging in multiplicities, whereby every living animate being, animal or otherwise, expresses its own path.

This continuous interchange of life-death is what is meant by circularity when the “centrality of humanity which has emerged from Christianity” is removed, I think, in which the individual organism is never detachable from the whole process of living-dying with respect to every other organism and being, that is, deeply embedded in the ecology and impossible to detach as an individual from it. (In this way, ego is always already dead, for one is not an individual but an embedded multiplicity of beings coming together and coming apart simultaneously, embedded relations with the rest of the animate world.)

“Western” civilization has alienated death, whereby death is always “elsewhere” in its false supposition of a detachment of humanity from nature. This is why so many modern humans are completely unaware of the consequences of their actions, where their actions cause death or give life, cause suffering or thriving. The human living under these colonial suppositions of a hard break between life and death do not think of how each moment of their existence kills and creates gaps where life grows.

When an individual walks, they might be killing millions and millions of cells, they might step on insects, damage plants. Their body is exterminating many organisms within them. Many other organisms are growing within them in their microbiota, outnumbering cells that contain their own DNA even. Every action gives rise to some life and some death, some animals and plants die, others grow in their wake, and at once, everything in the world is giving life continuity to the individual and at once seeking one’s own death. And every moment of existence for the wild animal is a moment in which life and death can both occur.

That is, for those who have undomesticated, have become wild animals again, the continuity of life-death as a process is both never taken for granted and is also always already assured. Those who believe in their own lives as a continuity in which death “has yet not occurred” fear death because to them, it is something unknown, something that has not happened. But for the wild animal, death is always right here in every moment of life, in each step and every action. Death becomes a comrade as much as life. There is no point in fearing what exists in the very process of being alive from moment to moment. You have already died many times. In the sense of spiritualities that understand a reincarnative process, this is the case, you have been many species, many beings. Nothing about you is inherently human except the illusions of being this life now (nevertheless a pressing illusion we must live). But even within this life, you are constantly incarnated, as all past selves have died from one moment to the next. In a way, you are never you, and the self is but a fleeting moment, a wisp or ghost floating away, already leaving the moment it is arriving. We become entangled multiplicities with all manner of beings, inextricably woven through with a multitude of life, what we emerged from, and what emerges from us.

As wild animals, every moment we live death. Each choice bring with it the possibility of death. In this way, our lives are a death-presence embedded throughout it. Existentialist philosophers (such as Jean-Paul Sartre) sought this quality, believing it was the “source of meaning and the creation of an individual’s meaning” in life. But existentialism was almost nothing more than an attempt to tame life-death for human domestication, to make it palatable, and this desperation in the domesticated philosophers of existentialism is apparent in their constant moroseness, as if death is this grand, dour thing, as if the weight of the world depends on it, something they cannot theorize because they already presupposed it as removed or antithetical to life. In the end, existentialists managed to celebrate neither Life nor Death, but rather attach a theatrical and over-exaggerated importance to narrowly defined ‘human life,’ ignoring the vast oceans of existence and animate being, living beings across all manner of kinds, as ‘not philosophically interesting.’ And in the end, they got no closer to understanding on this front, merely re-framing the same Christian eschatological views in a secular philosophical life. The radical view of life-death is removed of so-called “human meaning”. It is expressed in animistic and pagan lifeways, in the re-wilded spirit and the wild animal or wildlife in general.

The reality is that life-death resists and overcomes individual meaning. It is always sublimely unfurling for its multitude of unfathomable possibilities, tendrils of paths, each individual spirit also many, careening along its own path of growth across an oceans of differences of being. Death-presence is emergent in the actions of living always present to one’s instincts and senses. It is to be wildly living, with a knowledge of living and dying that sinks deeper into one’s flesh than mere conscious awareness, that animates one’s being, and expresses the will of one’s spirit, the will of spirits seen in all manner of things, from animals to the mud of the Earth. When practicing survivalism in the woods, my very breath becomes alive. Every follicle its own lightning-rod, flesh turns to fur, I dissolve with my surroundings and become the wild equid, and my being becomes less than individual and more than the mere illusion of individuality, where overlap and amorphous existence interchanges. One feels the very breath of the Earth with one’s own breathing, and one sees life energy itself sparking in the screaming vibrations of every refraction of light from plant leaves, rocks and running water. And each moment is a possible death, or rather, is an actual death embedded in the cycle of my own life. This was true when I walked upon hooves, and this is also true upon human feet. Nothing has changed. I am always dying and living every death—life-death is thus nothing more than transformation, and transformation is all there is. Only pure stasis is true Death. Is there purpose to all of this? The question is irrelevant. It merely is, and living existence, the living world, the path of life-death, is scintillating vibrancy of its own burning brilliance.

That is life-death, to me, ouroboros, the symbol of it, serpent eating its tail, which was first recorded in the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.