A stag enmeshed in forest with  Krampus silhoutted behind, @kelleysoularts Googling the Demon by S. Kelley Harrell

Once Upon a Time

After recently writing material for a deathwalking course that culminated with a Wild Hunt ritual, I found myself deeply frustrated with the information online regarding the Hunt and its origins. Granted, it’s much better than it used to be. We can now learn of animistic traditions that have survived the demonization of what was once an integral ritual to survive harsh Winter and clear the scape for a bountiful Spring–literally and liminally.

As part of my teaching, I always want students to shape their own relationship to the concepts that I teach, and part of that is being able to explore diverse other credible resources. Yet how do you locate such when the top results that come up in Google for pagan lore are demonized through the xtian lens? How do you know which ones to trust? How do you hold those lies separate to sort out your animistic awareness of the lore? Even if we personally may not have been raised in the church, most of what we know about all indigenous lore has been manipulated by it.

I tire of the quest for resources on myths and expressions of land-based cosmology that aren’t filtered through the supremacy of xtianity.

I want to know the secret ecology of the well maidens.

I want to re-member the charity of Tyr’s sacrifice for animism with Fenrir’s allegiance to the wild.

I want to rest in the safety of Cailleach’s anger. 

I want to meet a god who did not rape to provoke systemic change.

Between the soulful academic work of Mathias Nordvig, Maria Kvilhaug, Sharon Blackie, Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen, Lar Dooley, and so many folx expressing lore in the context of their place-space, I have hope for indigenous European remembering, and truth-telling of first peoples’ stories around the world.

From Elder to Ancestor - Nature Kinship for All Seasons of Life by S. Kelley Harrell

The Animistic Soma Checklist

If you’re reading mythology, following folklore, or delving into ancient cosmology, remember that to locate its animism, you have to see beyond the xtian gaze. This is a practice I’m still honing. Every time I explore those old stories Body reacts with visceral tightness. Body immediately detects both the lie and the lack of direction pointing to the truth, which generates tension that makes me feel distress. It’s a true stuckness of somatic sensing that prevents me from accessing my own heritage stories, my own other worlds of cellular knowing, thus it prevents me from being able to engage belonging with those animistic bonds. I have to pause in that sharp tension, remember that I am capable of experiencing beyond it, and reframe how I think about the material and the version of me reading it.

Below are my prompts for reframing Body’s response into animistic possiblity:

  • Where is the ecosystem in this text? How is it depicted?
  • Who is the dominant voice in this telling?
  • Whose voice is quieted?
  • In what language was the original story told?
  • How do the living indigenous people of the story tell it now?
  • How are the relationship between human persons, ecosystem, and other-than-human beings and spirits coded into this story?
  • Where have they been removed?
  • Does its telling make sense with how we know the culture at that time actually functioned?
  • How do I relate to these place-space-driven narratives without the xtian gaze?
  • What comes up in Body as I read?


Even the most academic among animist pagan community agree there are no singular answers to these questions. There’s no one way to internalize what may have been intended in our myths and remnants of ancestral cosmologies. There’s no one-to-one synthesizing of those cultural land-based stories to our modern social affinities. But we can, through practicing animistic awareness as we approach them, experience relationship with these indigenous stories and cosmologies in Body.

Body remembers. Body is land, and land-based identity is the key to animism here, now.


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S. Kelley Harrell, M. Div.

I’m an animist, author, deathwalker and death doula. For the last 25+ years, through Soul Intent Arts I’ve helped others to ethically build thriving spiritual paths as fit, embodied elders, who upon death become wise, capable Ancestors. My work is Nature-based, and focuses soul tending through the Elder Futhark runes, animism, ancestral healing, and deathwork. I’m author of Runic Book of Days, and I host the podcast, What in the Wyrd. I also write The Weekly Rune as a celebration of the Elder Futhark in season. Full bio.

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elder well, die well, ancestor well


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