An Animist Primer for the English Language

Sacred Bee

The longer that I’ve really embraced animism, not only as a life philosophy but as an active spiritual path, the more I realized that to be an animist is to radically turn your world upside down on every level.  Being an animist means that rather than living in a world of only things you can physically see or experience, you live in an enchanted world where everything–living, growing, place, a stationary object, or human-created object–has a spirit. And those spirits can be interacted with, learned from, and you can develop deep and complex relationships.  Being an animist in a Western materialistic and rationalistic world takes more than a bit of bravery and rethinking, well, everything. To be an animist to not only think and philosophize about a world full of spirits but also speak and act in ways that are in accordance with and honoring to those spirits.  I would argue that this is critically important: beliefs and philosophies are fine and are a good first step, but in the end, if you want relationships with spirits, you have to actively build them. And boy, this work is hard in today’s age.

And here comes today’s topic in my ongoing series on animsim: how does one speak as an animist? Talk as an animist? Talk to other humans and other spirits?  Unsurprisingly, because the English language is shaped by Western materialism, industrialism, scientific rationalism, and so on, I believe that an animist has to attend to how they use language and come up with a better approach.  Because to call a tree “it” when you are interacting with the tree’s spirit is disrespectful, even if it is technically correct English.  And so, in this post, we’ll explore the English language from the lens of Animism.  I’ll share some strategies and next steps I’m working on to combat the inherent biases in English against spirits and animistic philosophy, and I hope maybe you’ll have some ideas too to share about the next steps.  I will also share that this is my perspective, and you may not share it, and that’s ok.  I’m really posting a lot of this to generate conversation and I’ve been thinking about these things long enough to share what I’ve been thinking about.  I’ll also share my background here since it’s relevant–I’m a professor who teaches in an interdisciplinary Composition and Applied Linguistics graduate program, and my graduate studies are both in writing and linguistics.  So I’m drawing from that background to talk here today!

For those who have recently joined the blog and as a reminder to longer-term readers,  I’ve been sharing in many different ways how to not only start an animistic practice but live as an animist in various ways.  In my larger series on animism, I’ve offered an: introduction to animism, embracing an eccentric worldview in nature spirituality, co-creating intentions with nature, animism and permaculture introduction and ethics, connecting to the Genius Loci (spirit of place), and addressing waste as an animist.  I’ve also applied these principles to gardening: animistic gardening and its philosophies (Part I), animistic gardening part II: gardening strategies and animistic rituals and ceremonies for the garden.  These posts on animism have provided some introduction as well as thinking about animism in a gardening and permaculture context.

The Problem

Transform our words to support growth!
Transform our words to support growth!

Let’s start with English broadly. Languages are shaped by power and prestige, where those in power decide how the language is shaped (this is how certain dialects are “prestigious” or “proper” and others are not–it’s about the power of the speakers).  One version of what makes a language is that language is that a language has an army and a navy.  When people are conquered, their languages are also conquered, and English has been a conquering language for centuries. Because of this colonialism, today, English is the default Lingua Franca of the world–it’s the language that many globally want to learn to speak fluently, because with that fluency comes opportunity, prestige, and power.  And perhaps because of those things, the English language, moreso than some others demonstrates an adherence to the myth of progress, capitalism, post-industrialization, and the biases of colonialism, monotheism, and anthropocentrism that are deeply interwoven into the fabric of English.  In my earlier posts, I shared how the English language biases really harm the land through terms like “development” referring to destroying ecosystems and building suburbs, “progress” being used to describe the expansion of capitalist forces, and have worked to shift that.  Today, I take another dig at English with my discussion on animsim.

One of the major discomforts I feel in speaking and writing in English is the dehumanizing way in which both spirits and nature are typically referred to.  In fact, at present, it is one of the larger issues I face–I’ve been working hard on deepening my practices, but in order to do that, I have to also deepen my language use surrounding those practices. Here are some primary concerns:

  • The term “inanimate object” is hardly true, as the so-called inanimate object still has a spirit so it is very much animate
  • The issue of how to refer to individuals and beings (without calling them objects, other-than-human).  This is especially true because many of the terms used are purposefully denigrating or dismissive in English
  • Pronoun use: most living beings in the world who are not human are referred to as “it” which makes them less than humans (e.g. mushrooms, trees, rivers, mountains)
  • Capitalization use: while my name as a human would be capitalized as a proper noun (“Dana”), but the name of a tree, Sugar Maple, would not be. I have a problem with this, as these are proper beings.
  • What to call all other beings in the world? This is tricky.  Some animists use “non-human persons” and I’ve used it on occasion too, for clarity. But,  I don’t like this term because it puts humans in comparison to other beings.  It is anthropomorphic, privileging humans.  It has the same problems that saying something like “woman doctor” does (assuming the doctor to be a man, so you have to specify that the doctor is a woman in the phrase, thereby marking her as different and less than).
  • Autocorrect and grammar programs reinforce this heavily and really terrorize people who are trying to do something different (and some of us, like me with dyslexia, have to depend on them).

So why does this all matter? It matters because language shapes reality.  As recently evident with a range of human movements where people reclaim parts of English for themselves, reclaiming language is a powerful physical but also magical act. It matters because language helps shape our perception of reality in very subtle yet powerful ways. The theory of Linguistic Relativity describes how the language we speak (the vocabulary, morphology, syntax, phonology, and so on) can directly shape the reality we perceive.  Of course, people who study and practice magic already know this to be true. But if  we can reshape language that forces the divide between humans and all living beings, then perhaps we can eliminate that and help bring in a new perception and new reality.

So, let’s do something about it!  From this list, I am left with a few basic questions.  How do we:

  • Refer to beings other-than-human in a way that doesn’t compare humans and non-humans? (see the problematic terms in this question)
  • Refer to beings who are stationary as something other than “intimate” or “object”?
  • Modify or extend pronoun use to give all beings the same respect as humans?
  • Modify capitalization rules to give all beings the same respect as humans?
  • Address other problematic areas?

An Animist English Primer

Time to talk to some stones
Time to talk to some stones

Before I get into this list, I will start by sharing that changing your daily language use is really, really difficult both externally and internally. First, there are going to be times that you get it wrong and even when you intend on being more animistic in your English, you may slip into old patterns that are literally hardwired into your brain.  It’s okay, the spirits understand that this is a journey (SO much of animist practice can boil down to this–you are re-learning how to interact on a basic level with the world and re-orienting after a lifetime of other practices.  Spirits understand this, and they respect your effort even if you aren’t perfect).  But also, there’s bound to be confusion with other humans when you use these terms differently.  I’ve had some really interesting experiences and conversations when I refer to trees as people, and it can end up being weird, problematic, or interesting, depending on the person.

Here’s an example without modifications:

I see a group of stones that seem to be calling out to me from a stream while I’m on my hike with my friend.”  I say to my friend, “I’m going to go over there and sit with those stones for while”.  Later, I come back from visiting with the stones.  “The stone told me that it’s happy that we are here.”

So you can see in this first example, the use of “it” is really jarring here.  Let’s try for a revision:

I see a group of Stones that seems to be calling out to me on my hike with my friend.”  I say to my friend, “I’m going to go talk to that group of Stones over there, as they seem to be calling to me.” Later, I come back visiting with the Stones. “The Stones wanted to talk, and they tell me that everyone is happy we are here.” 

Yeah, that’s more like it.  Now let’s look at a few principles here:

Everyone is a Person or Being

So in terms of a beginning, a good place to start is to revise your choice of words in dealing with beings.  I like the term “person” or “being” or “everyone” and at this point, I’ve stopped distinguishing and trying hard not to use the “other than human” or “non-human” in front of “person.” Typically, you might say something like “persons other than human” or “non-human spirits” or some such construction.  I think that this is clunky and as I mentioned above, “others” the spirits while continuing to privilege humanity as the unmarked term.

Further, I try to refer to that being by their name as much as possible.   In the same way that I, as a dyslexic person don’t like the term “disabled” as it frames me as the one deviant from the norm, I don’t think that framing every spirit in terms of “humanity” is a good idea.  I also will offer honorifics as needed to my closer spirit friends (e.g. grandmother, grandfather, friend, and so on).

Pronouns for All Beings

So this directly leads to the next change that I have found to be useful–eliminating the “it” pronoun and using either he, she, or they for all beings.  “It” is derogatory in English, and “it” sends a subtle but powerful message of narcissism a human is above other beings, and therefore, those beings are “it.”  So I’ve worked to eliminate “it” and replace “it” with anything you deem more respectful (being, person, someone, or name of the being).  Most of the time these days, I work to avoid the pronoun entirely by repeating the name of the being:

I try to use the name or they, unless I know the being to specifically be of a gender.  I don’t want to gender someone who may otherwise not have a gender.

Proper Names and Proper Respect

Another change I’ve made is in writing conventions, where I have found it necessary to extend the rules of capitalization to refer to beings.  So at this point, I’ve begun capitalizing all proper names of beings of a species, such as Sugar Maple, Onyx, Salmon, Raccoon, and so forth. In the same way that “Dana” my name is capitalized when I see Raccoon I offer them due respect. Yes, I realize this is not in line with “proper” grammar and usage, but hey, I’m making all these other changes, so why not?

Going Extreme and Shifting Your Pronouns

As a final step further along the animist path, last summer, among my friends and family, I officially adopted the “it” pronoun as my primary pronoun of choice–both as a statement about my animistic views and to open up conversations on this topic.  My thinking was simple: if I’m an animist and I believe that all things have spirit, but they are often dehumanized through our language, then I will be put on equal footing linguistically.  If “it” is good enough for the stone, lake, goose, mountain, or tree, then “it” is a good enough pronoun for me.  As part of this shift, I spent a great deal of time consulting with my queer and trans friends to make sure my animistic choice of a pronoun was not upsetting or offensive to them, as they were also engaged in deep reclaiming of pronouns. They’ve been very supportive and said that each person should have a right to take on whatever pronoun best fits their identity, so I considered that a good sign to move forward with taking on “it” as my primary pronoun.

This is still a work in progress. In some ways, taking on “it” has been really positive in more alternative communities and among individuals who will be willing to entertain the idea. Among my druid friends, everyone is supportive and some have also decided to make the shift to “it” as well.  I went to an ecovillage last summer and had no problems with my new pronoun, and it sparked a lot of wonderful conversations. But I haven’t yet been able to get my family on board and “it” still doesn’t jive with a lot of people, who can’t even comprehend where I’m coming from.

I would say the most positive outcome of experimenting with calling myself “it” is that it allows for some really interesting conversations about the re-enchantment of the world, animism, and druidry. But on the negative, people just think I’m too weird and choose not to engage.  So this experiment, like many of these language choices, will take time and is currently a bit of a mixed bag.  But regardless, I think it supports my own animism and deepening of my druid practice, so I’ll keep on with “it” :).

Conclusion: Shifting Language to Shift Reality

I feel good about the above changes I’ve shared above in my language use for a few reasons.  First, within my own thoughts and actions, I’m working to bring my animsim into my daily practice in a new way, by talking in a way that honors the spirits. This matter of speaking does create some opportunities for conversation (with mixed results).  But most importantly, I believe this manner of speaking and writing helps create a better, more connected approach to how I think about the world on a daily basis.  Because language shifts are difficult, it requires me to attend to my own thoughts and speak much more–which helps me be a more responsive, aware, and connected animist.

Even so, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface here.  I’m curious to hear from you, readers–have you been making shifts in your own language use for spiritual purposes? What do those shifts look like? Or, if you make some of the shifts I’ve suggested above already, how did they work for you?

PS: Please note that I have a new article on Druid Rituals for the Summer Solstice through Spirituality and Health magazine.   Please check it out! 🙂

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. As far as I can tell, the name Sugar Maple is a proper noun and is thus capitalised. If you said tree, it would not be capitalised because it is a common noun.

    1. I’m not really interested in debating modern grammar rules for capitalization, which are themselves embedded in systems of power and privilege. I understand the “rules”. I’m simply trying something new with my own writing, language, and thinking.

  2. I have found that with my transgender friends, I have had little trouble adopting their new name. The pronouns take constant work and vigilance. They are so dominant in our conversations in an insidious way. I don’t even recognize I’m saying a pronoun, as I’m focused on the content. Changing to “it” would take a lot of effort for years to re-train my speech patterns! But if all other nouns get him/her/they, I don’t understand why you need something you consider to be less. Wouldn’t you be equal? Isn’t that at the heart of animism? Why are you not a him/her/they as well?

    1. KDHK,
      Oh yes, transitioning away from “it” is an ongoing practice, and I’m certainly not perfect on it. It’s not so much that I consider myself less, but I consider myself equal. It helps me fight anthropentrism and become more embedded deeply in animism and eco-centrism ( I’m not saying this kind of thing is for everyone, and I recognize this thing is a bit radical. I guess I’m ok with that, because “it” seems to be doing good.

  3. I have a few comments about this post. I too am animist. I am human. So are you. A dog is a dog, a tree is a tree. We cannot dehumanise a dog because it is not human. That is the same for a tree. You can say dog, or tree instead of, IT, if that floats your boat. As far as capitalisation of names goes, human is not capitalised, yet Dana is. Tree is not, unless it begins a sentence. English language conventions can be complex. Now, if you had a dog named Rex it would be capitalised because that is his name. I really don’t think we need to become any more ‘woke’ and start messing with and selecting pronouns for the world around us as well as people. A tree is a tree. Call it Mary if you like. Heck, give everything a name if you want to. But I won’t play that game. The whole pronoun culture is irritating and exhausting.

    Revised on December 7, 2022. In English, a capital letter is used for the first word of a sentence and for all proper nouns (words that name a specific person, place, organization, or thing).,first%20word%20after%20a%20colon.

    1. Hi Jodie,
      I think that language has power, so I’m ok with revising my language. You don’t have to, that’s totally up to you. I’m not telling anyone what to do, I’m reflecting and sharing my own practice as a possibility for thought and starting conversations like this one. I do want to clarify something though: this is not about being woke. I don’t really do modern politics, so I don’t see myself on any particular “side” of these issues, no do I identify as woke or any other current political labels. Its not that I don’t have political beliefs, I do. Its just that my political beliefs do not fit the modern system at all, so there’s no point in attaching myself to any of that system’s labels. My own relationship with the world is too complex for single adjectives…Anyways, as an experiment and practice, what I found was that when I started doing these things, what the changes did was encourage me to pay more attention to my own relationships. This isn’t about policing language, its like a thought experiment and personal change. I Hope that clarifies my non-political stance.

    2. Woke Alex Because Why Would Anyone Prefer to be Asleep?

      “The whole pronoun culture is irritating and exhausting.” Truly spoken as someone with the privilege not to be concerned with how they are perceived and treated in this world in regards to their gender and gender presentation.

  4. Well, I guess I am kind of simple in my approach; I consider all these spirits as equals and refer to them as that For example, a fly that’s irritating me, I call him buddy – “buddy, please leave me alone” or the tree I talk to is friend Elm – “hey friend Elm, what’s good in your world?” For the example you gave Dana about the stones — maybe I would say, “one of my stone friends just told me how much they enjoyed this place” I like that and if it can be improved upon, that’s great! I just see us all as equals and talk to everyone (including spirits) the same.

    1. I love that! That’s so helpful :). I agree, we are all equals.

  5. I’m nonbinary and tend to use “they” pronouns as a default, both when referring to a human whose gender I don’t know and to other-than-human beings as well. So much of language is not only species-essentialist but also gender-essentialist and reinforces patriarchy and colonialism. I support any attempts to broaden the language to be more inclusive, and I appreciate what you’re doing here.

    1. Hi River Crow, thank you. I appreciate your points about language being both species-essentialist and gender-essentialist, and I agree.

  6. I don’t think English itself is the problem. Words like “development” and “progress” are choices, and we have so many other choices. English also has words like “nurture, empathy, community, reciprocity.” People in power do like their development and progress, but we all have choices. It is telling that we lack a word for nywfre or qi, though.
    For pronouns, I’d rather question why we think “it” is demeaning. It’s our gender-neutral singular pronoun, that’s all. Humans have gender for biological reasons, and many species and beings have different genders (e.g., bees), or no gender, because they don’t need it. It still annoys the snot out of me to have to use “they” for a single person. Yes, I know it’s been standard in spoken English for centuries already–but generally when the number or gender of people is unknown, not for a specific single person. And spoken English is rarely as precise as written English. Speech usually doesn’t need to be precise, but written language is like a botanical drawing. Every word matters, just as every brush stroke matters.
    So I would rather say that there’s nothing wrong with being “it” if something or someone naturally has no gender, or the gender isn’t important. I mean, is it important to get a dog’s gender right, when you’re meeting it for the first time? No one’s upset if you guess the wrong gender. I get that we use “it” for objects and that’s meant to indicate that they’re less important. But I’d rather approach it from the side of saying something like stones (objects) are people too, and they’re “it,” and they’re important. That sort of seems like what you’re doing by taking the term “it” for yourself.
    The funny thing about the pronouns, though, is that “he, she,” and “it” are third-person pronouns. They’re only used for you when you’re not present. You don’t hear that 3rd-person pronoun. People say “you” to your face, and it’s wonderfully egalitarian: I would say “you” to Joe Biden, or my cat, or a rock. (OK, most people wouldn’t say “you” to a rock, but I would.) I am not a fan of asking people to remember special pronouns that aren’t intuitive. I try to honor people’s wishes, but they’re basically asking to be treated as special. And as someone else commented, it can be exhausting. I have seen people get upset about mistakes and I don’t want that directed at me.

    1. Hi Karen, thanks for your comment :). Always nice to hear from you! I think if we are paying attention to the inherent problems and power in English (e.g. progress, development, growth, these problematic terms) then that’s a good thing. But too much of this goes unspoken, and yet has considerable weight and cultural meaning attached–hence my entire discussion of linguistic relativity and related areas. Some people pay attention to language a lot while others just allow it to shape them without conscious effort. A lot of what I’m saying here is really bringing more conscious effort and attention to things I find problematic. Hence why I like to spend a moment here interrogating some of this stuff and thinking about different perspectives. I guess I’m not trying to fight with why “it” may be demanding or degrading, I just note that it is so and thus, I’ll do something about the situation.

  7. Sandra D Lindberg

    Dana, your sentence that most resonated with me is, “Let’s start with English broadly. Languages are shaped by power and prestige, where those in power decide how the language is shaped (this is how certain dialects are “prestigious” or “proper” and others are not–it’s about the power of the speakers). ” With your linguistics training, you know intimately about these concepts. As a retired theatre professor who studied and taught dialects for many years, I know you are absolutely correct in making that statement. England’s RP style of speaking (Received Pronunciation) is a dialect taught by the upper class to its children and to anyone who finds him/herself or their-selves in public school. It is a marker that allows some to ‘enter’ certain environments that those who sound differently will struggle to navigate. The same is true with a dialect in the US called Standard Pronunciation or Good Stage Speech, a set of sounds developed by a dialectician Edith Skinner at Carnegie Mellon University and then taught to hundreds of Hollywood film stars at their studios when films incorporated sound as a larger part of what they offered. Standard Pronunciation is roughly based on upper-class Boston pronunciations that came to define what constituted cultured speech in the US. When I was in graduate school, we were expected to speak always with the sounds of Standard Speech. The sounds we’d learned from our communities or families were to be left behind. I didn’t do it. I saved those sounds, which I learned thoroughly, for times and places where those in attendance would expect me to demonstrate such markers.

    What many do not know, but that my favorite teacher Kristin Linklater certainly did, was that Shakespeare’s original productions often included many different dialects from Britain. His productions did not exhibit the set of RP sounds that some directors demand. Linklater argued persuasively that Shakespeare’s productions were enriched by a complex chorus of English sounds. Linklater also argued that one’s birth sounds, like food preferences, religious background and sexual orientation were aspects of a person’s core identity seated so deeply that they were to be disturbed, shifted or eradicated only with great care.

    All of which is to argue that, as you say, language has great power. While an army or navy may win the battles that gets one country to impose its flag on another, it is language and culture that will–or won’t–guarantee that the country remains a conquered land.

    Grammar, I would argue, exhibits the same tendency to associate certain sounds with power. Even the phrase “proper noun:” who is appointed, and by whom, to determine what is proper? Proper English has been used in the US for hundreds of years to disenfranchise and disempower People of Color and Indigenous people and recent immigrants whose English was a second language.

    For me each tree and plant is a person. Flowering Dogwood in our side yard is she to me. The family of rabbits in our garden are they. I have successfully made the transition to thinking of living beings as persons and people. Where I struggle is with the so-called inanimates in my environment. I’d like to begin the transition of thought to think of stones, soil and more as he/she/them. Even someday, I’d like to look out at the earth and feel that ‘we’ is the truest pronoun for what I experience.

    The last thought I’ve had as I read your post has to do with the pronoun ‘it.’ I believe that words, like living beings, have power. If you really taste and feel the difference in your mouth and throat and lungs, as well as what you feel on your tongue, you may feel how ‘it’ is a very different expression than ‘we/she/he/they.’ The last four are allowed much more time, air, resonance, and the ability to travel through space than ‘it.’ For me, ‘it’ is like creating a letter with a tap of a computer keyboard, while ‘we/she/he/they’ linger as voiced experiences and travel further in space–like songs.

    These thoughts are offered as a personal perspective, only. They are not more ‘true’ than others perspectives. They simply reflect how I have come to live.

    Your post has enriched my morning. Thank you.

    1. Hi Sandra, thanks for sharing–and I agree with everything you’ve said! There’s an interesting concept called “linguistic synesthesia” that talks about the actual feel of words in the body, as we articulate them, and how that may also impact how we perceive language. For example, there’s terms like “min” and “mal” where “min” doesn’t have the mouth open as wide, and mal has the mouth opening wider–the physical articulation being different, which contributes to a different feeling. I feel like you are really getting into that in the last point about the idea of “it”. :).

      I also love the comment you have about everyone as “we”. In Sand Talk, Tyson Yunkaporta uses the phrase “us too” which he translates essentially as a more complex “all of us together” which I also really like.

      Blessings and thanks for reading!

  8. I too have been trying to change my language to acknowledge that there is spirit in all things and to get rid of “it”. In Linear B the last syllable indicated the gender of the being. This is the reason why many girl names end in “ia” or “a” to indicate female: Patricia, Dana, Theresa, etc. The male ending was “os” or “o”: Carlos, Mario, Dino. But then *originally* there was also an “us” ending which indicated having both male and female traits, but the later Latin and Greek eventually grouped this in with male: Dionysus, Narcissus and Hermaphroditus (which is where we get the tern for hermaphrodite. I do realize that the current accepted term is “intersex” but when referring to deities, I think hermaphrodite is accurate.) *Originally* these would have been personages that incorporated both male and female traits. AND I also capitalize the word Pagan, since Druid and Christian would be capitalized.

    1. Hi Robin, thanks so much for sharing. Yes to capitalizing Pagan! I appreciate your emphasis here on the “us” and insights on Greek and Latin. It is fascinating to see how far back some of these changes go and how embedded they are through centuries and millennia. And if you think about that, the linguistic emphasis on gender has influenced so many generations of people. What are your thoughts on deities and gender in general? What do you do?

  9. Heather M. Stanton

    I think shifts in language are really hard at first because they require so much conscious attention to something that has become unconscious and automatic, but eventually with frequent practice the new way of referring to things will eventually become automatic. In regard to person-hood, or being-hood if you will, it’s easier with certain animal beings who are clearly a he or a she and harder with a plant or tree that may not be either. I think I would refer to them by their names “the White Pine in the. back”, the “Pink Coneflowers” and try to avoid “it” as I agree that in English it generally means an object, and not a person or being, to most listeners. One could even use “you”…so for example if my cats are being mischievous I will say, “Hey, what do you think you are up to here?” Of course, we can name beings like we name our pets, perhaps giving them fond nicknames such as “Sunny” (a Calendula) or “Twiney” (in the case of a vine). We can use “someone”–if a bee is in the house, someone is buzzing around. We can talk like a poet: the river is speaking in gurgles and bubbles, the crickets are singing us to sleep, or the wind is whispering. Poetic language is not unfamiliar, is one way English can be used in an animistic manner that people recognize and relate to, and can result in subtle shifts in perception.

    1. Hi Heather,
      Thanks for sharing! I love your suggestion for more poetic interpretations of language–thank you for sharing! 🙂

  10. I’m friends with a stone (which looks to have been used as a way marker and then built into the outer corner of a pub in the 1700s) I was thinking of this stone as a person, and saying ‘he’ in my head, but thinking this felt wrong, and thinking about how I call a lot of things ‘he’ because of cultural and personal bias (and since I’ve had children, i try to be more careful so I don’t influence them) and…the stone responded by telling me their name! So now the children and I use the name. It does change sentence structure to always use the name, but I like the way it feels reverent. However, it still leaves me with a problem: if I were talking to others, I would wish to use a non-it pronoun to continue that reverence, but I don’t want to overlay gender where I have been told there is none. And of course I shouldn’t share the name to others. So I still have a problem!

    It does feel like a problematic time to be addressing gender. I wish to be a good ally to all marginalised people, and on a one to one level I always wish to show respect and call anyone whatever they choose (and I expect the respect in turn of being forgiven the inevitable mistakes I will make occasionally). My personal position is that i have a female body, and am happy with this, so I use ‘she’ to reflect my sex. However, I have no gender- i reject gender completely. So people want to label me ‘cis’ and I find this offensive, but I do not wish to be non binary because that does not reflect my reality either. There is therefore no place for me amongst the results of the highly influential activism which is changing things in the UK at the moment. I agree we need to change but I feel scared by the way people are so focused on achieving change they are shutting down debate about what the results of that change should look like.

    1. Hi N! Thanks for sharing the story of the stone. I wonder if its good to avoid pronouns entirely and just use the stone’s name (if the stone has given permission) or “the stone” if not?

      And I think that what you are saying about gender and pronouns in the physical human world is good. I’m also at the point where I don’t really want any labels attached to me because I don’t like the baggage of those labels (pronouns, politics, you name it), but there’s not any space for that, so its hard to even articulate. But at least we can try, right? And in the end, something like that to me is a very personal choice and is all about honoring a being’s soverignty. That’s a lot of what I’m trying to share here, anyways.

  11. I love this, thank you. Truly a paradigm shift. I’ve struggled with the “it” pronoun and what pronoun to use when referring to non-humans, and have been somewhat influenced by how the French language (I live in Canada btw) utilizes the gender neutral pronoun “on”, which has morphed in modern times to most often mean “we” but can mean much more such as someone, you, they, it, he, she, etc., any pronoun. In more formal English,”one” has a similar use. Perhaps one could use “one” rather than the French “on”. But I also love your suggestion of structuring one’s words to avoid using the pronoun at all! I look forward to more on this.

    1. Hi Della, thanks for sharing about the French language! I don’t know much about the French language, but it is so nice that you have a gender-neutral pronoun that has a more rich meaning. “One” might be a really nice alternative!

  12. I found this article from Robin Wall Kimmerer helpful:

    No need to reinvent the wheel; our indigenous ancestors have language that we can use (even if truncated).

    1. Thank you, Brandon! 🙂

  13. I really value these reflections and intentions. Magic flows from intention and the language we use to express that intention has power. And language, at root, is supposed to be about communication, not just cultural dictates of power and correctness. That’s why I’m my view it is perfectly natural and right for language to evolve, as it will do, whether some may want it or not. So reclaiming and creating the expressions we to actualize in the world is great!

    Also, I’ve been doing the capitalization of Beings for awhile now and love it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Meredith, how has capitalizing Beings shifted you? Others? I’m interested in hearing if you are willing to share. Glad to hear you are also doing this language change work…and blessings to you! 🙂

  14. This is a subject I’ve thought about for years and I like your way of describing visiting with the Stones. I usually say “other animals,” but never thought about capitalization. And I’ve always liked the idea of using “Ze” as an independent pronoun, but it’s having a hard time catching on. Journalists (or, rather, people who use the title but who actually use some form of AI to “write”) have started saying “they” for everything, even the singular, when they want to avoid gender designation—then why not “Ze”? Which would be pronounced “zay” and would be similar to “they” but definitely different and noticeably campaigning for a neutral designation.
    If we’d adopt such a thing we would avoid the tiresome “he or she” thing and we’d initiate something similar to the avoidance of the default “he” to describe any action by beings generally—regardless of species—that has become commonplace in virtually all writing.
    But I despair of common sense becoming common virtue.

    1. Hi Almira! Thanks for your comment–I like the “ze” pronoun! Maybe it will catch on :).

  15. I’ve been saving this article in my feed for a “thinky” day–I wasn’t disappointed!

    I may have mentioned this, but I’ve been using she/he for plants around the neighborhood, and in Garden team convos over email. It’s so delightful to watch the practice spread amongst my neighbors, such that other folks start talking that way, too. Hope in mimicry, if that makes sense!

    It also seems that it’s easier for folks to wrap their heads around pronouns for beings that are more dominant in the landscape, like a pasture oak or other prominent tree. Baby steps, baby steps…. 

    1. Hi Cat! I love that not only are you using the pronouns but that they are spreading in the community! Love that so much. I also find just when I talk in that way, people take notice. Even if they don’t say it as well (although sometimes if I say “she” in converstaion in referring to say, my favorite tree on campus, then someone else I’m talking with will say “she” too!)

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