‘Energy’ – Earth Spirituality’s most irritating word



The word ‘energy’ turns up in conversations and blog posts among Druids, polytheists, alternative therapists, shamanic and magical practitioners of every kind. It is everyday currency among people who are interested in Earth Spirituality and alternative healing. And everybody seems to know what they mean by it. Whenever I come across it, it slightly annoys me. I’ve struggled to put my finger on why that might be.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming that ‘energy’ does not exist. What I am saying is that the word is being used so broadly, in so many different contexts, that it has very little meaning for me. It tends to disconnect me rather than express a lived reality.

Take these three examples:

1) “Your human body consists of five layers of energy. The first layer is your physical body. The outer four layers of energy are commonly referred to as your aura. Collectively, these five layers or “energy bodies” are the human energy field. An energy medicine practitioner treats all layers of the human energy field, not just the physical layer.”

2) “Negative or harmful energy seeps into our spaces all the time. Whatever the reason for it entering, regularly removing negative energy from your space can restore balance and harmony. If you are wondering how to remove negative energy from your home, try these simple cleansing rituals to ensure there is a free flow of positive energy through your home.”

3) “I believe we’re on the cusp of feminine goddess energy blossoming once more in society and government, and that will cause civilization to evolve in a more humane, prosperous, and peaceful direction.

The word is used in many different ways and in each instance its meaning is hard to pin down. In the three examples above, it seems to have something to do 1) with the magnetic field every living thing generates, with the life force and vitality; 2) with the mood or atmosphere of places; 3) with an archetype that expresses a type of social behaviour.

It bothers me that those three things seem to have little to do with each other, yet they’re all ‘energy’. Although I have experienced what I believe is meant by at least the first two, the word doesn’t fit my experience. To me, the it’s so vague that it takes me out of my embodied experience of being alive in the world.

The last thing we need in this world is for the language we use in our spiritual and healing practices to disconnect us from reality. We need a language that awakens us to the life of Nature and the messy physicality of the Earth we belong to.

I could say: “The calendula in my garden has a very specific energy.” I don’t know how that sentence feels to you, but looking for that ‘energy’ takes me out of the here and now and takes me to a different place, slightly offset from where I was before.

If I say, on the other hand: “The calendula in my garden has a very specific personality,” that moves in the opposite direction. It brings the calendula right into my world. It makes the plant come alive as the unique and vibrant person that it is.

Both those sentences talk about the same thing and the same experience. The second just somehow feels more real to me.

My aim in life is to remember that we are not alone in the immediate here and now. That we are surrounded by persons, visible and invisible, who all co-create our reality with us. I don’t want to enchant the world, somehow making it more magical. I want to enchant myself, so that I can see the world for the rich community of beings that it is. I believe that using a more specific language for the experiences we have can do that.

“I can feel a definite energy in the old house” is much vaguer than “I can feel an Ancestor in the old house.” Or perhaps it is “I can feel the memories of the old house.”

“Her energy is very negative” is very different from “I can feel that she’s upset.” Or “I can see her sadness dragging behind her.”

I can’t do much with the first set of sentences. The second set draws me into a relationship with a person, whether they are a plant, a house, an Ancestor or a living human being. They ask me to open my heart and find compassion for someone. The specific words open my eyes to a much more complex and vibrantly alive world than the word ‘energy’ ever could.

So the next time I want to say something about the aliveness of the world, I will use words that express specifically what I mean. Words that draw people into a world of relationships that they can fully participate in. I’ll leave ‘energy’ to electrical circuits and the power companies.

4 thoughts on “‘Energy’ – Earth Spirituality’s most irritating word

  1. Excellent post Hilde! I completely agree – I’ve often felt exactly the same frustration over the nebulousness of “energy” as a term, but I’ve never been able to express that frustration in coherent terms. You’ve totally nailed it I think – energy does pull us away from the reality of our lived-experience, by lumping so much of what we feel into the same catch-all category.

    I think what people are reaching for is the notion of “potency”. In all the examples you mention, what’s being stressed is the power possessed by certain things – parts of the body, atmosphere, archetypes, and so on. The intention, I suspect, is to attempt to elide the idea of the mind/body divide, but postulating a common agent – “energy” – that transmits the force of both. But there’s far more effective ways of challenging that divide, in my view, and to use a single term for what are, in reality, diverse forces of change is foolish. Our experience tells us that we are not all “one” – but many. Attending to the infinite variety of lived experiences is what will bring us back to unity with all, in my opinion.

    Let’s stop using “energy” in future, unless we’re talking about electricity!

  2. Thanksfor this post hilde. Im shamelessly going about my day at a well known fast food joint. Since reading your post though i have reaccessed a side of me that was a little under nourished. Now i am going to invest some time on a walk in the park to recconnect with the personality of that place. Bright blessings indeed.

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