What is Animism:

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

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

In most cases, animism is not considered a religion in itself, but 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.

It can now be identified in different ways in the major religions of the modern world.

What is the origin of animism?

Historians believe that animism is fundamental to human spirituality, dating back to the Paleolithic period and the hominids that existed at that time.

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

He is believed to have honed these beliefs while studying with ancient Egyptians, whose reverence for life in nature and personification of death indicate strong animistic beliefs.

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

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

Although many thinkers thought of identifying the connection between 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.

Edward Burnett Tyler, British anthropologist.
Edward Burnett Tyler, British anthropologist.

Edward Burnett Tyler, British anthropologist.

The main features 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.

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

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

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

In contrast, the Inuit, Eskimo people from the Arctic region of Alaska to Greenland, believe that spirits can possess any entity, animated, inanimate, living or dead.

Belief in spirituality is much broader and holistic because the spirit is not dependent on the plant or animal, it is the entity that depends on the spirit that inhabits it.


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