What is Animism?

Definition of Animism

Animism is the belief or idea that everything, including people, animals, geographic features, natural phenomena, and inanimate objects, has a spirit that connects them to each other .

It is an anthropological construction used to identify common traits of spirituality between different belief systems.

In most cases, animism is not considered a religion in itself, but rather a feature of various practices and beliefs.

This term was first coined in 1871, and is considered a key feature in many ancient religions , especially indigenous tribal cultures.


What is the origin of Animism ?

Historians believe that animism is central to human spirituality . Because it goes back to the paleolithic period and the hominids that existed at that time.

Historically, philosophers and religious leaders have attempted to define the human spiritual experience . Around 400 BC, Pythagoras discussed the connection and union between the individual soul and the divine soul, indicating a belief in an integral “ soul ” of humans and objects.

It is believed that he perfected these beliefs while studying with the ancient Egyptians, whose reverence for life in nature and the personification of death indicate strong animistic beliefs .

Plato identified a three-part soul in individuals and cities in his literary Republic , published around 380 BC, while Aristotle defined living beings as things that possess a spirit in On the  Soul , published in 350 BC.

The idea of ​​an animus mundi , or soul of the world , derives from these ancient philosophers, and was the subject of philosophical and then scientific thought for centuries before it was clearly defined in the late 19th century.

Although many thinkers thought to identify the connection between the natural and supernatural worlds. The modern definition of animism was not coined until 1871, when Edward Burnett Tylor used it in his book, Primitive Culture , to define older religious practices.

characteristics of animism

As a result of Tyler’s work, animism is commonly associated with primitive cultures , but elements of animism can be observed in the world’s major organized religions.

Shintoism, for example, is the traditional religion of Japan practiced by more than 112 million people. At its core is the belief in spirits, known as kami . Spirits that inhabit all things, a belief that links modern Shinto with ancient animistic practices .

Within indigenous Australian tribal communities, there is a strong totemic tradition . The totem, usually a plant or animal, has supernatural powers and is reverently regarded as an emblem or symbol of the tribal community.

There are often taboos about touching, eating, or hurting the totem. The source of the totem spirit is the living entity, plant or animal, not an inanimate object.

In contrast, Eskimos from the arctic region of Alaska to Greenland believe that spirits can possess any entity , animate, inanimate, living or dead.

The belief in spirituality is much broader and more holistic. Since the spirit does not depend on the plant or the animal, it is the entity that depends on the spirit that inhabits it.

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