“Other-than-human persons”

From the website for the book “Animism: Respecting the Living World” by Graham Harvey:

I’m indebted to Jenny Blain (Sheffield Hallam University, author of Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic (Routledge, 2002) for introducing me to the word wight.

She tells me that wight can be a synonym of “beings” or “persons”, but, more usefully, that it refers to “sentient beings for which we don’t have other words”. Derived from an old English word (with cognates in Old Norse), wiht, the word seems much more useful that the word “spirit”. Too many people, anthropologists included, add the word “spirit” where it really isn’t needed. If trees, rocks, clouds or animals are persons, then it doesn’t help to speak of them as “tree spirits”, etc., unless you want to confuse people into thinking you are making claims about some spiritualised, metaphysical or non-empirical reality. It is only useful to speak of “tree persons” and so on because we need to educate ourselves and other heirs/victims of modernism to find different ways to perceive and relate to other-than-human persons.

(The term “other-than-human persons”, created by Irving Hallowell to say what his Ojibwe hosts had taught him, is fully discussed in my book. Its another “humpty-dumpty” term in my work.)

Wights seems useful too in more poetic circumstances and one’s in which we’re happy to expect people to ask what we mean. It has become an important part of the language of contemporary Heathens.

Written by Willem