The Full Wiki

Animism: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

Animism (from Latin anima "soul, life") is a philosophical, religious or spiritual idea that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in other animals, plants, rock, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, a proposition also known as hylozoism in philosophy. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names or metaphors in mythology. Animism is particularly widely found in the religions of indigenous peoples, although it is also found in Shinto, and some forms of Hinduism and Neopaganism.

Throughout European history, philosophers such as Plato, 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".

Whilst having similarities to totemism, animism differs in that it, according to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, focuses on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whilst 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 that of the Australian Aborigines are more typically totemic, whilst others, like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.


Sir Edward Tylor was responsible for forming the definition of animism currently accepted in anthropology.
The term animism appears to have been first developed as animismus by the 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. The term was taken and redefined by the anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, in which he defined it as being "the theory of the universal animation of nature". Under Tylor's definition therefore, animists viewed the natural world as being innately alive. Being a self-described "confirmed scientific rationalist", he himself however believed that such a view was "childish" and typical of "cognitive underdevelopment", and that it was therefore common in "primitive" peoples such as those living in hunter gatherer societies. Tylor's definition has largely been followed by anthropologists since, such as Emile Durkheim, Claude Levi-Strauss and Tim Ingold. However some anthropologists, such as Nurit Bird-Davis have criticised the Tylorian concept of animism, believing it to be outdated.


Animism in the widest 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 all events are the product of intention or consciousness. Piaget explains this with a cognitive inability to distinguish the external world from one's own psyche. Developmental psychology has since established that the distinction of animate vs. inanimate things is an abstraction acquired by learning.

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."

Psychoanalysist Sigmund Freud thought that "primitive men" came up with the animistic system by observing the phenomena of sleep (including dreams) and of death which so much resembles it, and by attempting to explain those states. Freud regarded it as perfectly natural for man to react to the phenomena which aroused his speculations by forming the idea of the soul and then extending it to objects in the external world.

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; an animated controversy arose between the former as to the priority of their respective lists. Among these phenomena are trance states, dreams and hallucinations.

Animism and religion

Animism is a belief held in many religions around the world, and is not, as some have purported, a type of religion in itself. It is a belief, such as shamanism, polytheism or monotheism, that is found in several religions.

Origin of religion

Some theories have been put forward that the belief in animism among early humans were the basis for the later evolution of religions. In this theory, initially put forward by Sir E. B. Tylor, early humans initially worshipped local deities of nature, in a form of animism. These eventually grew into larger, polytheistic deities, such as gods of the sun and moon.

World view

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. 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. In such societies, ritual is considered essential for survival, as it wins the favor of the spirits of one's source of food, shelter, and fertility and wards off malevolent spirits. In more elaborate animistic religions, such as Shinto, there is a greater sense of a special character to humans that sets them apart from the general run of animals and objects, while retaining the necessity of ritual to ensure good luck, favorable harvests, and so on.


Most animistic belief systems hold that the spirit survives physical death. In some systems , the spirit is believed to pass to an easier world of abundant game or ever-ripe crops, while in other systems, the spirit remains on earth as a ghost, often malignant. Still other systems combine these two beliefs, holding that the soul must journey to the spirit world without becoming lost and thus wandering as a ghost (e.g., the Navajo religion). Funeral, mourning rituals, and ancestor worship performed by those surviving the deceased are often considered necessary for the successful completion of this journey.

From the belief in the survival of the dead arose the practice of offering food, lighting fires, etc., at the grave, at first, maybe, as an act of friendship or filial piety, later as an act of ancestor worship. The simple offering of food or shedding of blood at the grave develops into an elaborate system of sacrifice. Even where ancestor worship is not found, the desire to provide the dead with comforts in the future life may lead to the sacrifice of wives, slaves, animals, and so on, to the breaking or burning of objects at the grave or to the provision of the ferryman's toll: a coin put in the mouth of the corpse to pay the traveling expenses of the soul.

But all is not finished with the passage of the soul to the land of the dead. The soul may return to avenge its death by helping to discover the murderer, or to wreak vengeance for itself. There is a widespread belief that those who die a violent death become malignant spirits and endanger the lives of those who come near the haunted spot. In Malay folklore, the woman who dies in childbirth becomes a pontianak, a vampire-like spirit who threatens the life of human beings. People resort to magical or religious means of repelling spiritual dangers from such malignant spirits.

It is not surprising to find that many peoples respect and even worship animals (see totem or animal worship), often regarding them as relatives. It is clear that widespread respect was paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors, and much of the cults to dangerous animals is traceable to this principle; though there is no need to attribute an animistic origin to it.

The practice of head shrinking among Jivaroan and Urarina peoples derives from an animistic belief that if the spirit of one's mortal enemies, i.e the nemesis of ones being, are not trapped within the head, they can escape slain bodies. After the spirit transmigrates to another body, they can take the form of a predatory animal and even exact revenge.


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.

However, many mythologies focus largely on corporeal beings rather than "spiritual" ones; the latter may even be entirely absent. Stories of transformation, deluge and doom myths, and myths of the origin of death do not necessarily have any animistic basis.

As mythology began to include more numerous and complex ideas about a future life and purely spiritual beings, the overlap between mythology and animism widened. However, a rich mythology does not necessarily depend on a belief in many spiritual beings.


The term "animism" has been applied to many different philosophical systems. It is used to describe Aristotle's view of the relation of soul and body held also by the Stoics and Scholastics. On the other hand monadology (Leibniz) has also been termed animistic. The name is most commonly applied to vitalism, a view mainly associated with Georg Ernst Stahl and revived by F. Bouillier (1813-1899), which makes life, or 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 Plato, Schelling and others.


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.

Many Pagans and Neopagans believe that there are spirits of nature and place, and that these spirits can sometimes be as powerful as minor deities. Polytheist Pagans may extend the idea of many gods and goddesses to encompass the many spirits of nature, such as those embodied in holy wells, mountains and sacred springs. While some of these many spirits may be seen as fitting into rough categories and sharing similarities with one another, they are also respected as separate individuals. On the other hand, some Wiccans may use the term animist to refer to the idea that a Mother Goddess and Horned God consist of everything that exists.

Animistic religions

African traditional religions

African traditional religions, a group of beliefs in various spirits of nature, are commonly described as animistic, yet this fact has for many years been disputed by leading cultural anthropologists. For the most part, the description of African traditional religions in this way reflects more of a bias of European understanding and less of a scientifically balanced and ethnographically informed perspective. In describing African traditional religions, "Animism" is a term that is used as shorthand to describe a richer and more complex interplay between elders, ancestors and nature spirits.

In the Canary Islandsmarker (Spainmarker), aboriginal Guanches professed an animistic religion. Aboriginal Guanches had a North African origin.

Eastern religions

Shinto, the traditional religion of Japanmarker, is highly animistic. In Shinto, spirits of nature, or kami, exist everywhere, from the major (such as the goddess of the sun), who can be considered polytheistic, to the minor, who are more likely to be seen as a form of animism.

There are some Hindu groups which may be considered animist. The coastal Karnataka has a different tradition of praying the spirits for their good. See also Folk Hinduism

Native American religions

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.

New religions movements

Many, though not all, Neopagan religions, practice a form of animism. Most followers of Germanic Neopaganism believe in spirits that are, or live in Nature and technology, which stems from their effort to reconstruct historical Norse Paganism.

The New Age movement commonly purports animism in the form of the existence of nature spirits and fairies.

See also

Celtic Paganism


  1. Segal, p. 14
  2. "Animism", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, p. 72
  3. "The concept that humans possess souls and that souls have life apart from human bodies before and after death are central to animism, along with the ideas that animals, plants, and celestial bodies have spirits" (Wenner)
  4. Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40. Page S67
  5. Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40. Page S67
  6. Ingold, Tim. (2000). Totemism, Animism and the Depiction of Animals in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge. Page 112-113
  7. Harper, Douglas. (2001).
  8. Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40. Page S67-68
  9. Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40.
  10. The Natural History of Religion. D. Hume. p. xix
  11. Freud, p. ??
  12. Fernandez-Armesto, p. 138
  13. "Animism", Encyclopedia Britannica
  14. Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [1]
  15. Adler, p. ??
  16. Higginbotham, p. ??
  17. Cunningham, p. ??


  • Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. Penguin, 2006.
  • "Animism". Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th ed. Vol. 2. 1911. Online Encyclopedia. JRank. 10 July 2008 />.
  • "Animism". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
  • "Animism". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2001-07. Inc. 10 July 2008 />.
  • Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ballantine Books, 1994.
  • Cunningham, Scott. Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Llewellyn, 2002.
  • Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [75]
  • Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Ideas that Changed the World. Dorling Kindersley, 2003.
  • Higginbotham, Joyce. Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions. Llewellyn, 2002.
  • Segal, Robert. Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Wenner, Sara. "Basic Beliefs of Animism". Emuseum. 2001. Minnesota State University. 10 July 2008 />.

Further reading

  • 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.
  • 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. 2006. 'Rethinking the animate, re-animating thought', Ethnos, 71(1) : 9-20
  • Wundt, W. (1906). Mythus und Religion, Teil II (Völkerpsychologie, Band II). Leipzig.
  • 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; Bad Liebenzell: Liebenzeller Mission, 2004; ISBN 3-921113-61-X; mit dem verkürzten Untertitel Einführung in seine begrifflichen Grundlagen auch bei: Neuendettelsau: Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Okumene, 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, Klaus W. Müller (Hg.). Nürnberg: VTR, 2007; ISBN 978-3-937965-75-8 und Bonn: VKW, 2007; ISBN 978-3-938116-33-3.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address