by Elizabeth Spreng, PhD
Almost everyone has talked to a stone. As a child you might have picked up a stone and carried it around with you after it called to you. Perhaps a gargoyle from a spire has talked to you or a stone lion has growled and then, maybe, winked at you. This is not the same as talking with raw and wild mineral formations, but somehow as adults we forget how to listen to earthly gems.
My personal history of rockitude goes back to my stone-gathering adventures with my super-spunky grandmother, Delia. She was an avid rock-hound and taught me many magical lessons. Together, we hunted for rocks and stones that talked in quarries and forests or even stopped on road-trips in the Appalachian mountains. Outside of my house I have a hunk of Amazonite or “hope stone” that found its way into my life with my grandmother. To find a stone that you can hear takes a willingness to stop driving or even to pause for a moment. Like Shakespeare said, “The earth has music for those who listen.”
Delia nurtured the fairy faith in me but not the Disney version of fairies. She grew up in Northern Ireland where people believed in brownies, mischievous sprites, the giants, and other reclusive magical creatures. When she told me to go dance in fairy mushroom ring; to forage for a four-leaf clover (and I still do); or to lie on her slate patio if I was mad, my grandmother offered me wisdoms. Hearing those stories and being told that I had “the magic” in me instilled a belief in seeing what is invisible and hearing rocks and stones. Like Delia did for me, I invite you to awaken your magic and open your senses.
Mica is another rock-like substance that I found in those childhood days. My grandmother told me that mica is a window to the Sidhe that attracts fairies. I am still enchanted with this mirror-like, fragile, and layered mineral. To ground my focus, I glued flakes of mica to a Buddhist prayer cloth that hangs near my desk. This little bit of hearth magic reminds me to listen with all of my senses.
One of the first parts of stone whispering is hearing the way your lapidaries communicate. Each stone “talks” differently; some whisper or murmur, some are chatty or giggle, others speak loudly. You may experience synesthesia, the “union of the senses.” For many people, the music-sound connection is easierThis stepping stone would be re-conceiving animal talk.
I often hear the question, “Does your parrot talk?” I respond, “Yes, Tinks speaks bird quite well and sometimes human.” This little conversation is an example of how humans expect non-humans to use language. Stones do not whisper like we do. Listening with presence is hearing the green whispers in the moving leaves on trees or in the fallen browns and oranges that say, “come dance with me.” This way of living as engaged and embodied is an active resonating with the world—more than reacting to external stimulation, you are using your senses sensuously. to understand as hearing a color or they remember the dancing mushrooms in “Fantasia.” While meditation or sensory deprivation may provide formal techniques to cultivate this sensory blending, I will offer another fun way to blur these distinctions.
These conversations are not like speaking with words; they are a form of extrasensory communication. My understanding of these dialogues is grounded in affirmations of my magical self at an early age and deepened in my adult wanderings as an anthropologist. From anthropological ruminations, I see a brick wall: the culturally constructed linkages of language and thought. These walls often become higher and higher as we grow up. Or maybe we get very busy removing metaphorical pebbles from our shoes that interfere with cultivating synesthesia.
My very light-hearted approach to this natural engagement involves some deeper issues. One is the divide between traditional and modern logic. As an anthropologist and practicing witch, I worry about people losing touch with our planet’s magic. Animism, often associated with indigenous people, is a belief that non-breathing “stuff” has a spirit. It is a way of embracing natural magic. Civilized modern-type people might not think of a rock as having life, but many playfully acknowledge that everyday things, like a car or a computer, have a will of their own.
By looking at Daniel Everett’s fieldwork with the Pirahā in the Amazonian jungle, I can expose some problematic linguistic pebbles. Everett found it extremely difficult to speak Pirahā, an endangered language with three vowels and eight consonants. Another issue was something very basic to English speakers who might refer to their left or right hands. What he discovered is that Pirahā orient toward the river, an external point of reference, and not toward their body, an internal orientation. As he learned the language and asked questions, Everett thought, “My ‘speaking’ was just some cute trick to some of them. It was not really speaking.”
This uncomfortable acknowledgement got to him to thinking more about the relationship between language and thought. Until he accepted their world view and animistic beliefs, he could not “hear” what they were saying. Everett who went to Brazil as a missionary had an intention to convert the Pirahā, but he was the one who rejected Christianity. For the Pirahā, spirits and dreams are real and immediate experiences. This belief challenges many people’s ideas about what is real, oftentimes we need to “see” or “hear” something to believe it exists. So like Everett learned, we have to shift our perceptions and see the unseen as real. This letting go of ego breaks down the Cartesian split—the walls between your mind, body, and senses.
David Abram, an anthropologist, activist, and magician takes this insight one step further. He sees the participatory nature of perception as we develop an affinity for leaves that crackle before us and streams or breezes that caress us. A sensual engagement can also start in a “hello” said to stones, well-worn by the touch of a thousand passing molecules of water, or with rocks that converse with breezes from across the world. This interconnectedness can be a part of the way you move in life.
Although animism may differ from your own magical traditions and practices, you might find some geological treasures in your own family history. I never expected to rediscover the hunk of amazonite and pieces of mica in my mother’s house.
From my childhood excursions with my grandmother to my adult witchiness, I picked up many things about talking to stones. In whatever way it resonates with you, communicating with geological matter expresses a lived engagement with natural wonders. Clifford Geertz, a famous anthropologist, described culture as webs of significance, “Man is an animal caught in the webs he himself has spun.” Yet, his words suggest that these webs are woven only by humans. I hope that my words help you enjoy the non-human webs in your world.
Magic, then in its most primordial sense, is the experience of existing in a world made up multiple intelligences, the intuition that every form that one perceives—from the swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself—is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations, albeit sensations that are different from are very own. – David Abram
Abram, David. (2010). Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York: Vintage Books.
Abram, David. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-
Human World. New York: Vintage Books
Everett, Daniel. (2008). Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian
Jungle. New York: Random House.
Elizabeth is a classically trained people watcher as an anthropologist, hereditary witch, word-smith, and artistic being. She lives in the backwoods of Ohio where she enjoys creative knitting and coloring mandalas.
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