The Fifth World



Psychology differs markedly from one society to the next, so it should come as no surprise that the people of the Fifth World think and perceive the world in ways that would have seemed incredibly strange to their civilized ancestors.

Spirit of Place

People in the Fifth World live their lives intimately connected to their family territory. Their ancestors go into the soil and come back as plants and animals that feed them. They eat its food, drink its water, and breathe its air. The land lives in every cell of their bodies, their proteins literally built out of the land. In a very real and literal sense, the land lives through them more than they live off the land. The same holds true for all of the plants and animals that dwell in the territory with them, making them siblings. Even death necessarily means becoming a different part of the land. Though many still evoke the imagery of heaven and hell, they use those images to refer to a much more earthly sort of afterlife.

Life in the Fifth World means life rooted in the land. The land empowers them and strengthens them. They call it paradise, wherever it may lie, with good reason. Their tales all echo the spirit of the land, the genius loci that echoes in the bird calls and the streams and the way the winds blow through the trees. Their languages have begun to sound like their territories.

Concentric Circles

Living locally shapes the mind to a particular soundscape, the rhythm of seasonal life and seasonal tastes, in close relationship with other-than-human neighbors. Like any other animal, humans recognize the songs of birds and the calls of different animals. They may not see for miles off into the distance, but the eagle can, and they recognize the eagle's calls and the way it flies when it sees prey. The whole world becomes an extended set of senses for a skilled tracker in the Fifth World. They speak easily as their territory as the whole world because beyond it they no longer have such a relationship. They find themselves removed from that web of relationship, in an alien and possibly hostile environment. They lose that extended set of senses, and it afflicts them as profoundly as gouging out their eyes or cutting off their ears.


Mothers carry their babies with them always, so the children become used to the rhythm of daily life. Before they learn to speak, babies master “affect-talk,” a deep resonance with body language and the subtle, nuanced movements and tensing of muscles that express emotion and disposition. To an untrained, alien eye, such people might seem to possess psychic powers. They don’t, of course. They merely have a lifetime of close, tactile contact, keen awareness, and a synesthetic experience of the sensuous world. They generally can’t describe how they know what they know (making it seem even more like telepathy), but they cue in on facial micro-expressions, muscles tensing and other subtle clues that reliably communicate emotion, but happen so quickly that they become almost impossible to catch without that kind of close upbringing. Because those around her prove so eager to provide what a baby needs, a child learns very quickly that the best and fastest way to get what she wants lies in acting as openly and truthfully as she can. This pattern continues when she learns to speak. Even when a child in such a society learns to speak, “affect-talk” remains the foundation on which spoken language builds.

Often, everyone in a family sleeps together, coordinating and synchronizing their patterns and rhythms through the night. They touch one another constantly as their primary means of communicating and relating. Even when speaking, they constantly touch one another, holding their hand on the other's chest or arm.

Later they apply this empathy to tracking small game or exploiting the world around them. Most hunter-gatherer societies honor a good trick. They pull practical jokes on one another all the time, often competing for the most clever prank. The Trickster archetype receives great reverence. Without superior speed or strength, or sharp teeth or claws, the idea of taking down a superior opponent by wit appeals to most humans. For hunters, the skill becomes a necessity. To say that such people do not know how to lie exaggerates a kernel of truth: trickery and deception constitute honored skills, but they also live in a human community where deception has become difficult.

Individual & Community

Raised in such a family, people in the Fifth World develop a self-confidence that might seem amazing, even otherworldly, to their civilized ancestors. They have the confidence to embark on even the most perilous quests, to pursue even the most trifling whims, simply because they saw it in a dream.

Effects of Orality

Writing proved a powerful magic in the days of civilization. Simply by looking at a page the words of an author far removed or even long dead would sound in your own mind. But a written word remains changeless and static — a series of symbols ripped from any social context or family. Plato, one of the first philosophers from a literate society, saw the world of his own experience as an illusion cast by the truer world of “Forms,” because the actual things we touch and smell and taste and see never fully conform to the static ideal of the written word that represents them.

In the Fifth World, writing has become largely useless, and oral traditions have re-emerged. Oral traditions train the human mind in a very different pattern. Where writing trains us to see the world in terms of static symbols, oral traditions train us to see the world in terms of events. In an oral society, one can only learn in the context of social relationship. Information passes from one person to another in a series of interlocking conversations, in the context of an ongoing relationship. Writing makes the world seem “thing-like,” while an oral tradition turns the world into an unfolding process.


See Animism.

Tracking in the Fifth World takes more than simple mechanical skill or deductive reasoning. It takes awareness and empathy. The trail often breaks off. If a tracker cannot feel what the animal felt and think what the animal thought, she'll probably never pick up the trail again.

People in the Fifth World understand bird songs and animal calls and often weave their own speech with the sounds of other animals, learning new words from them. In such languages, animals might very well speak. Hunters live locally and recognize the personalities of each member of the local wolf pack. They read the daily gossip about their neighbors written clearly in the earth. They recognize these others as persons.

Misunderstood by civilization in the dualistic terms that literacy suggested as a belief in “spirits” inhabiting the natural world, we might more clearly refer to the “spirits” of animism as persons. An animist doesn't necessarily believe in anything supernatural whatsoever. Animism refers simply to the recognition of personhood in other-than-human beings.