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Animism (from Latin animus, -i "soul, life")1 is the religious worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence.23 Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the religion of indigenous tribal peoples,4 especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of civilization5 and organized religion.67 Although each tribe is unique in its specific mythologies and rituals, "animism" often describes the most common, foundational thread of indigenous tribespeoples' spiritual or "supernatural" perspectives. Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan, and many Neopagans) and not all peoples who describe themselves as tribal would describe themselves as animistic. The tribal animistic perspective is so fundamental, mundane, everyday and taken-for-granted that most animistic indigenous people do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion");8 the term is an anthropological construct rather than one designated by tribespeople themselves. Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinion has differed—ever since Sir Edward Tylor's 19th-century popularization of the term—on whether animism refers to a broadly religious belief or to a full-fledged religion in its own right.note 1
Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment,16 including thunder, wind, and shadows. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Examples of animism can be found in forms of Shinto, Serer, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Pantheism, Paganism, and Neopaganism.
Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants, and people; however, the currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".17
According to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, animism shares similarities to totemism but differs in its focus on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whereas totemism more typically holds that there is a primary source, such as the land itself or the ancestors, who provide the basis to life. Certain indigenous religious groups such as the Australian Aboriginals are more typically totemic, whereas others like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.18
Just as Christianity can be said to be the experience of being part of the living body of Christ, animism can be said to be the experience of being part of the living biosphere (or even the whole "animate" universe). In this sense, something that is "animate" is simply something that is "alive," and to be an animist is to believe things to be alive that others perceive as "inanimate."
The term animism appears to have been first developed as Animismus by German scientist Georg Ernst Stahl, circa 1720, to refer to the "doctrine that animal life is produced by an immaterial soul." The actual English language form of animism, however, can only be attested to 1819.19 The term was taken and redefined by the anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, in which he defined it as "the general doctrine of souls and other spiritual beings in general."
According to Tylor, animism often includes "an idea of pervading life and will in nature";20 i.e., a belief that natural objects other than humans have souls. As a self-described "confirmed scientific rationalist", Tylor believed that this view was "childish" and typical of "cognitive underdevelopment",21 and that it was therefore common in "primitive" peoples such as those living in hunter gatherer societies.
Tylor's definition of animism has since largely been followed by anthropologists, such as Émile Durkheim, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Tim Ingold. However, some anthropologists, such as Nurit Bird-David, have criticised the Tylorian concept of animism, believing it to be outdated.22
Animism in the broadest sense, i.e., thinking of objects as animate, and treating them as if they were animate, is near-universal. Jean Piaget applied the term in child psychology in reference to an implicit understanding of the world in a child's mind which assumes that all events are the product of intention or consciousness. Piaget explains this with a cognitive inability to distinguish the external world from one's internal world.
The justification for attributing life to objects was stated by David Hume in his Natural History of Religion (Section III): "There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious."23
Lists of phenomena, from the contemplation of which "the savage" was led to believe in animism, have been given by Sir E. B. Tylor, Herbert Spencer, Andrew Lang, and others; a controversy arose between the former as to the priority of their respective lists.citation needed Among these phenomena are trance states, dreams, and hallucinations.citation needed
Animism is a belief held in many religions and mythologies around the world, and may or may not be, depending upon opinion, regarded a religion on its own.note 1 It is a belief, such as shamanism, polytheism or monotheism, that is found in several religions.citation needed In modern usage, the term is sometimes used improperly as a catch-all classification of "other world religions" alongside major organized religions.
Some theories have been put forward that the anthropocentric belief in animism among early humans was the basis for the later evolution of religions. In one such theory, put forward by Sir E. B. Tylor, early humans initially, through mere observation, recognized what might be called a figures which would appear in dreams and visions. These early human cultures later interpreted these spirits to be present in animals, the living plant world, and even in natural objects in a form of animism. Eventually, these early humans grew to believe that the spirits were invested and interested in human life, and performed rituals to propitiate them. These rituals and beliefs eventually evolved over time into the vast array of “developed” religions. According to Tylor, the more scientifically advanced the society, the less that society believed in Animism; however, any remnant ideologies of souls or spirits, to Tylor, represented “survivals” of the original animism of early humanity.
In many animistic world views found in hunter-gatherer cultures, the human being is often regarded as on a roughly equal footing with other animals, plants, and natural forces.24 Therefore, it is morally imperative to treat these agents with respect. In this world view, humans are considered a part of nature, rather than superior to, or separate from it.
It is clear that widespread respect was paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors, and many of the cults to dangerous animals are traceable to this belief. Thus, it is not surprising to find that many peoples respect and even worship animals, often regarding them as relatives.
A large part of mythology is based upon a belief in souls and spirits — that is, upon animism in its more general sense. Urarina myths that portray plants, inanimate objects, and non-human animals as personal beings are examples of animism in its more restrictive sense.25
Animism is not the same as Pantheism, although the two are sometimes confused. Some faiths and religions are even both pantheistic and animistic. One of the main differences is that while animists believe everything to be spiritual in nature, they do not necessarily see the spiritual nature of everything in existence as being united (monism), the way pantheists do. As a result, animism puts more emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual soul. In Pantheism, everything shares the same spiritual essence, rather than having distinct spirits and/or souls.2627
Some early scientists such as Georg Ernst Stahl (1659-1734) and Francisque Bouillier (1813–1899) had supported a form of animism which life and mind, the directive principle in evolution and growth, holding that all cannot be traced back to chemical and mechanical processes, but that there is a directive force which guides energy without altering its amount. An entirely different class of ideas, also termed animistic, is the belief in the world soul anima mundi, held by philosophers such as Schelling and others.2829 In the early 20th century William McDougall defended a form of animism in his book Body and Mind: A History and Defence of Animism (1911).
Herbert's quantum animism differs from traditional animism in that it avoids assuming a dualistic model of mind and matter. Traditional dualism assumes that some kind of spirit inhabitats sic? a body and makes it move, a ghost in the machine. Herbert's quantum animism presents the idea that every natural system has an inner life, a conscious center, from which it directs and observes its action.31
The terms animism and panpsychism have become related in recent years. The biologist Rupert Sheldrake has supported a form of animism which David Skrbina calls "a unique form of panpsychism". Sheldrake in his book The Rebirth of Nature: New Science and the Revival of Animism (1991) has claimed that Morphic fields "animate organisms at all levels of complexity, from galaxies to giraffes, and from ants to atoms".32 In his book The Science Delusion (2012) he wrote that the philosophy of the organism (organicism) has updated the ideas of animism as it treats all of nature as alive.33
- Shinto, the traditional religion of Japan, is highly animistic. In Shinto, spirits of nature, or kami, are believed to exist everywhere, from the major (such as the goddess of the sun), which can be considered polytheistic, to the minor, which are more likely to be seen as a form of animism.
- Many traditional beliefs in the Philippines still practised to an extent today are animist and spiritist in origin in that there are rituals aimed at pacifying malevolent spirits or are apotropaic in nature.
- There are some Hindu groups which may be considered animist. The coastal Karnataka has a different tradition of praying to spirits (see also Folk Hinduism). Likewise a popular Hindu ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala, India is the Tabuh Rah blood offering to Theyyam gods, despite being forbidden in the Vedic philosophy of sattvic Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, Theyyam deities are propitiated through the cock sacrifice where the religious cockfight is a religious exercise of offering blood to the Theyyam gods.
- Mun, (also called Munism or Bongthingism) is the traditional polytheistic, animist, shamanistic, and syncretic of the Lepcha people.343536
- Many traditional Native American religions are fundamentally animistic. See, for example, the Lakota Sioux prayer Mitakuye Oyasin. The Haudenausaunee Thanksgiving Address, which can take an hour to recite, directs thanks towards every being - plant, animal and other.
- The New Age movement commonly purports animism in the form of the existence of nature spirits.37
- Modern Neopagans, especially Eco-Pagans, sometimes like to describe themselves as animists, meaning that they respect the diverse community of living beings and spirits with whom humans share the world/cosmos.38
- New tribalist American author Daniel Quinn identifies himself as an animist and defines animism not as a religious belief but a religion itself,39 though with no holy scripture, organized institutions, or established dogma.12 He considers animism the first worldwide religion, common among all tribal societies before the advent of the Agriculture Revolution and its resulting globalized culture, along with the proliferation of this culture's organized, "salvationist" religions.40 His first discussions of animism appear in his two 1994 books: his novel, The Story of B, and his autobiography, Providence: The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest.
- There is ongoing disagreement (and no general consensus) as to whether animism is merely a singular, broadly encompassing religious belief910 or a complete religion in and of itself,1112 comprising many diverse mythologies found worldwide in many diverse cultures. This also raises a controversy regarding the ethical claims animism may or may not make: whether animism ignores questions of ethics altogether13 or, by endowing various non-human elements of nature with spirituality or personhood,14 in fact promotes a complex ecological ethics.15
- Segal, p. 14.
- Harvey, Graham (2006). Animism: Respecting the Living World. Columbia University Press. p. 9.
- Haught, John F. (1990). What Is Religion?: An Introduction. Paulist Press. p. 19.
- Hicks, David (2010). Ritual and Belief: Readings in the Anthropology of Religion (3 ed.). Rowman Altamira. p. 359. "Tylor's notion of animism—for him the first religion—included the assumption that early Homo sapiens had invested animals and plants with souls...."
- Bourne, Edward J. (2009). Global Shift: How A New Worldview Is Transforming Humanity. New Harbinger Publications. p. 199.
- "Animism". Contributed by Helen James; coordinated by Dr. Elliott Shaw with assistance from Ian Favell. ELMAR Project (University of Cumbria). 1998/9.
- Curry, James R. (2008publ isher awelani mudau they believe that dead people are still alive and can talk). Children of God; Children of Earth. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 9. "Animism...did not provide a moral code; it was (and is) without ethical thoughts motives. The development of organized religion apparently proceeded from this latter need."
- "Native American Religious and Cultural Freedom: An Introductory Essay". The Pluralism Project. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Diana Eck. 2005.
- David A. Leeming; Kathryn Madden, Stanton Marlan (2009-11-06). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-387-71801-9.
- Insoll, Timothy (2004). Archaeology, Ritual, Religion. Psychology Press. p. 144.
- Harvey (2006), p. 6.
- Quinn, Daniel (2012). "Q and A #400". Ishmael.org.
- Edward Burnett Tylor (1920). Primitive culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom. J. Murray. p. 360.
- Clarke, Peter B., and Peter Beyer, eds. (2009). The World's Religions: Continuities and Transformations. London: Routledge, p. 15.
- Curry, Patrick (2011). Ecological Ethics (2 ed.). Cambridge: Polity. pp. 142–3.
- "The concept that humans possess souls and that souls have life apart from human bodies before and after death is central to animism, along with the ideas that animals, plants, and celestial bodies have spirits" (Wenner).
- Bird-David, 1999: p. 67.
- Ingold, Tim. (2000). "Totemism, Animism and the Depiction of Animals" in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge, pp. 112-113.
- Harper, Douglas. (2001). http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=animism
- Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1871). Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom. J. Murray. p. 260.
- Bird-David, 1999: pp. 67-68
- Bird-David, N. (1999) “Animism” revisited: On Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology, Current Anthropology, 40s:S67-S91
- David Hume (2007-06-30). The Natural History of Religion. NuVision Publications, LLC. ISBN 978-1-59547-901-3.
- Fernandez-Armesto, p. 138.
- Bartholomew Dean (2009-11-15). Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia. ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5.
- Paul A. Harrison Elements of Pantheism 2004, p. 11
- Carl McColman When Someone You Love Is Wiccan: A Guide to Witchcraft and Paganism for Concerned Friends, Nervous parents and Curious Co-Workers 2002, p. 97
- Émile Durkheim, Neil Gross, Robert Alun Jones Durkheim's Philosophy Lectures 2004, p. 286
- Animism, Vitalism, And The Medical University Of Montpellier
- 2006 190
- Werner J. Krieglstein Compassion: a new philosophy of the other 2002, p. 118
- David Skrbina Panpsychism in the West 2005, p. 200
- Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. (2012-02-14). The Science Delusion. Coronet. ISBN 978-1-4447-2792-0.
- Hamlet Bareh, ed. (2001). Encyclopaedia of North-East India: Sikkim. Encyclopaedia of North-East India 7. Mittal Publications. pp. 284–86. ISBN 8170997879.
- Torri, Davide (2010). "10. In the Shadow of the Devil. traditional patterns of Lepcha culture reinterpreted". In Fabrizio Ferrari. Health and Religious Rituals in South Asia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 149–156. ISBN 1136846298.
- Barbara A. West, ed. (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Facts on File library of world history. Infobase Publishing. p. 462. ISBN 1438119135.
- Wouter J. Hanegraaff New Age religion and Western culture 1998, p. 199
- Murphy Pizza, James R. Lewis Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, 2008, pp. 408-409
- Quinn, Daniel (1997). "Q and A #75". Ishmael.org.
- Quinn, Daniel. The Story of B. New York: Bantam Books. 1997
- Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. Penguin, 2006.
- "Animism". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2001-07. Bartleby.com. Bartleby.com Inc. (10 July 2008).
- Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ballantine Books, 1994.
- Bird-David, Nurit. 1991. "Animism Revisited: Personhood, environment, and relational epistemology", Current Anthropology 40, pp. 67–91. Reprinted in Graham Harvey (ed.) 2002. Readings in Indigenous Religions (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 72–105.
- Cunningham, Scott. Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Llewellyn, 2002. --unreliable source?
- Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5, .
- Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Ideas that Changed the World. Dorling Kindersley, 2003.
- Higginbotham, Joyce (2002). Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions'. Llewellyn.unreliable source?
- 'Lamphun's Little-Known Animal Shrines' (Animist traditions in Thailand) in: Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 1. Chiang Mai, Cognoscenti Books, 2012.
- Segal, Robert (2004). Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
- Wenner, Sara. "Basic Beliefs of Animism". Emuseum. 2001. Minnesota State University, (10 July 2008).
- Hallowell, A. Irving. "Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view" in Stanley Diamond (ed.) 1960. Culture in History (New York: Columbia University Press). Reprinted in Graham Harvey (ed.) 2002. Readings in Indigenous Religions (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 17–49.
- Harvey, Graham. 2005. Animism: Respecting the Living World (London: Hurst and co.; New York: Columbia University Press; Adelaide: Wakefield Press).
- Ingold, Tim: 'Rethinking the animate, re-animating thought'. Ethnos, 71(1) / 2006: pp. 9–20.
- Wundt, W. (1906). Mythus und Religion, Teil II. Leipzig 1906 (Völkerpsychologie, volume II).
- Quinn, Daniel. The Story of B
- Käser, Lothar: Animismus. Eine Einführung in die begrifflichen Grundlagen des Welt- und Menschenbildes traditionaler (ethnischer) Gesellschaften für Entwicklungshelfer und kirchliche Mitarbeiter in Übersee. Liebenzeller Mission, Bad Liebenzell 2004, ISBN 3-921113-61-X.
- mit dem verkürzten Untertitel Einführung in seine begrifflichen Grundlagen auch bei: Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Okumene, Neuendettelsau 2004, ISBN 3-87214-609-2.
- Badenberg, Robert: "How about 'Animism'? An Inquiry beyond Label and Legacy". In: Mission als Kommunikation. Festschrift für Ursula Wiesemann zu ihrem 75.Geburtstag, edited by Klaus W. Müller. VTR, Nürnberg 2007; ISBN 978-3-937965-75-8 and VKW, Bonn 2007; ISBN 978-3-938116-33-3.
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