council of all beings


The Council of All Beings is a two-hour to three-day educational activity that aims to develop an understanding and empathy for the more-than-human world.


The language used by Macy (in Seed, Macy, Fleming & Naess, 1988) in the instructions to this activity provides an instance of the power of language to both open up and close down the possibility of both humans and animate Earth as subjects possessing intention, agency and communicative abilities. After the introductory activities, which include a process of mourning and remembering, Macy offers the activity directions. The text hints at the possibility of an agenic and communicative non-human world:

We choose – or let ourselves be chosen by – another species. Harkening to the whispers of the natural world around us and within us, we stretch to see and feel what lies just barely beyond our human knowing", and in the process "resurrect a half-forgotten skill. (p. 109)

The ways in which these instructions are taken up indicate the difficulty of this passage for many. I have participated in Councils where these directions get translated into "pick an animal (or plant) that you would like to speak for." The language in this case inscribes humans as the actors and other beings as passive recipients of human action. Contrast this with alternate possible instructions:

find a plant, animal or other being that calls you, and listen to what it has to say.


when you waken from your dream, you will be called upon to dictate that which has been told to you.

Conceptualized within a world view that ascribes agency and communicative abilities to non-human persons (Harvey, 2006a) this activity takes on an entirely different flavour. Yet framed within a worldview that assumes these are human abilities only (Harvey, 2006a; Smith, 2004, 2006), it risks simply reinscribing empathetic anthropocentrism (see Boler, 1999), maintaining human qualities as the primary measure by which the worth of Others are assessed.