Animas Institute & Bill Plotkin

In the course of writing an article about butterflies and the imaginal (which I haven't yet finished) I ran across the writings of Bill Plotkin, and then discovered the Animas Valley Institute. I was so inspired I wanted to share my discovery. Dr. Plotkin is a colleague of David Abram, whose Wild Ethics I wrote about last spring. Here is also one who "speaks with the Earth", and knows how to teach others to listen.

As I've shown with my enthusiasm for the film AVATAR **, I deeply feel that people like Bill Plotkin, David Abram, Starhawk, Joanna Macy, Jesse Wolf Hardin with Kiva and Loba, and many others, are quietly addressing the most important, far reaching, and revolutionary question of our time - how can we live in harmony and spiritual communion with the planetary Self. As Dr. Plotkin points out, we are in our adolescence, and must mature as culture, soon, if we are going to meet the evolutionary challenge of our time, or de-evolve and fail, taking with us the demise of so many species, so much potential, so much that is beautiful and precious.

I've taken the liberty of copying below from the Animas website.

"Either you will go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through there is always the risk
of remembering your name.....

-Adrienne Rich
Animas Valley Institute
Nature and the human Soul, (by Bill Plotkin)


The primary goal and method of all Animas programs is the encounter with soul. Founded in 1980 by wilderness guide and depth psychologist Bill Plotkin, the Institute is one of North America's longest-standing organizations offering contemporary wilderness rites. "Animas" is plural for "souls" in Spanish. In Jungian psychology, the Anima is the Inner Woman in a man; the Animus, the Inner Man in a woman. The Anima and Animus refer to the mysterious energies within our psyches that guide us on the journey of descent to soul. Animas Valley Institute is located in southwest Colorado in the valley of El Rio de las Animas Perdidas — The River of Lost Souls.

Animas programs differ significantly from those offered by most other wilderness organizations, vision-fast guides, and experiential educators. Our work is not primarily rites of passage, wilderness-based psychotherapy, or emotional healing. Our focus, rather, is nature-based initiation, whose central goal is the descent to soul for the purpose of maturing the ego so that it becomes a vessel for a person’s deepest, world-transforming gifts. Our programs are not designed to solve everyday personal problems or to help people better adjust to — or be happier in — the surface world of contemporary Western culture. Instead, our intent is a foundational shift that elicits each person’s most creative, soul-rooted response to our precious, critical moment in history.

"The heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world."

— Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Animas Valley Institute: Who We Are

Our mission, in its widest scope, is to contribute to cultural transformation by fostering nature-based personal development and thus the maturation of individuals and the human species. We support each participant to access and embody the world-changing and vital creativity at his or her core.

Humanity has arrived at a pivotal moment in Earth’s evolutionary process. The early decades of the twenty-first century offer us the opportunity and imperative for what deep ecologist Joanna Macy calls the Great Turning — the transformation from a life-destroying human presence (the Industrial-Growth Society) to a life-enhancing presence, a way of life worthy of our unique human potential — and the planet’s natural unfolding. Writer and guide Geneen Marie Haugen reminds us that, as far as we know, we humans are the only Earth creatures with the ability to imagine never-before-seen futures and make them real. In this precarious moment in history, we are being called to make real a global network of just, ecocentric, and sustainable societies — the human element in a true Earth community. It is every person’s obligation and privilege to contribute to this metamorphosis. Cultural historian and geologian Thomas Berry referred to this vital endeavor as the Great Work of our time.

Animas’ objective is to contribute to this Great Work by helping individuals re-align their lives with the rhythms and cycles of nature, with the unfolding stories of Earth and cosmos, and with their own visionary potential — their artistry as innovators of cultural change.

The most potent seeds of cultural renaissance come from the uniquely creative ventures of authentic adults, those who have consciously discovered and committed to the one true life they can call their own, a life that emerges from the largest conversation one is capable of having with the world. All such adults are, by definition, true artists, visionaries, and leaders, whether they live and work quietly in small arenas or very publicly on grand stages.

As Thomas Berry wrote, “We must invent, or reinvent, a sustainable human culture by a descent into our pre-rational, our instinctive resources.” Such a descent is the purpose of the underworld journey to soul undertaken by those who have moved beyond the self-involved early adolescence in which our society has stalled. The most creative, inspiring deeds in the world today are being performed by visionaries who have made that descent and have returned with their unique contribution to the Great Turning. Animas is helping to engender innovative cultural forms that enable every person to mature in this way.

Animas’ central purpose is to assist people through the initiatory process that leads to visionary leadership and cultural artistry. Our primary work is with those ready to undergo the joys and challenges of the underworld descent to soul, which flowers into a life of meaningful service and abundant fulfillment — or a deepening for those already on the journey.

Animas is a nonprofit organization of over 20 guides, many volunteers, and four part-time staff with offices in Durango, Colorado, USA. Since 2008, we have structured ourselves as a non-hierarchical, team-led, service organization, with no directors or executives. Other than our four staff, all team members are volunteers. All team members, whether staff or not, are responsible for their own service — and not for the service of anyone else.

Our 30-plus annual programs include 12-day contemporary vision fasts, five-day retreat-center-based soulcraft intensives, one-day and weekend introductory programs, yearlong immersions that meet for four sessions (one in each season), and advanced intensives on soulcentric dreamwork, shadow work, the cultivation of ecological identity, deep imagery journeys, and other topics. Animas founder Bill Plotkin and the other Animas guides have created and shaped over 40 contemporary practices that assist people of Western cultures in their quests for more meaningful, fulfilling, and culturally engaged lives aligned with nature, soul, and the Great Turning.

Animas also serves as a training institute. Our Soulcraft Apprenticeship and Initiation Program (SAIP) is an advanced training curriculum designed for those who have been called by Mystery to serve as nature-based underworld guides. For more information, see the Training Programs sub-menu under the Animas Programs tab of this website.

Bill Plotkin’s first book, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, provides a thorough overview of the practices utilized in Animas programs and of the mystical descent into the underworld of soul. Bill's second book, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World, introduces a nature-based map of the eight stages of a soulcentric and ecocentric human life cycle. Twenty years in the making, this visionary ecopsychology of human development reveals how fully and creatively we can mature when soul and wild nature guide us. Nature and the Human Soul presents a model for a human life span rooted in the cycles and qualities of the natural world, a blueprint for individual development that ultimately yields a strategy for cultural transformation. Learn more at

"Speak to the Earth,
and it shall teach thee"

Job 12:8