What Does A Biblical Christian Believe?
What is Animism Learn About Primitive Religions

1. Definition of Animism

E. B. Tylor “derived from Latin word anima meaning breath or soul”; a belief in spirits. An explanation of phenomena, early stage of religion used to set up relations with spirits, differing greatly from polytheism i.e. corn spirit is object of magic rather than religious rites, animism belief in “departmental gods” can (and did) lead to polytheism.

  1. Authoritative writings - Animism is so widely varied, verbally communicated (passed on), and primarily belonging to nomadic tribes with unwritten tradition, that no authoritative writings exist (nor are deemed necessary by past and present practicioners).

  2. Beliefs and Practices

    1. Brought on by Trance, unconsciousness, sickness, death, clairvoyance, dreams, apparitions of the dead, hallucinations, echoes, shadows, reflections6

    2. All beings, alive or not possess spirits7

    3. E.B. Tylor6– Souls not only pass between humans but into plants, animals, and inanimate objects as well. Posits that animism is the basis for all religions. (TFS editor note: But there is codified evidence that points out that monotheism was the earliest of all religions and it is the departure from this very-early monotheism that brought on the aberrational beliefs in the "created" beings as holding deity and in fact, rejecting the actual "Creator" of those beings)

    4. Trees and plants were worshiped as totems (usually an animal or other naturalistic figure that spiritually represents a person or, more likely, a clan) or because of their usefulness and beauty.

      1. Trees are sometimes regarded as maternal deities

      2. The Soma plant of India, coca shrub of Peru, Rice of the East Indies, and maize mother of the Americas were/are all worshiped.

      3. Sometimes regard animals as relatives or deities (c.f. Hinduism – Cow; North American Natives - "Spirit of the Eagle" etc.)

    5. Like modern-day occultist/nature worshipers – some animists view life as being in everything, and everything, even man, supporting life (a variation on pantheism)

    6. Shamans/priests who possess spiritual powers greater than or external to the normal human perform the rituals. Regarded for their supposed visits to the netherworld Are called on to “channel” spirits for the sake of an individual or tribe.

    7. Head-shrinking- for war enemies traps the spirit in the head to prevent escape from the body and transmigration to another body or predatory animal9

    8. Nayaka of India, Ojibwa of Southern central Canada – hold that there are ‘rock’ and ‘eagle’ persons in addition to ‘human’ persons.

2. Key Questions Of The Animist

  1. Who or what is God to the Animist? - Basically, there is no Supreme God for the animist, but rather an elaborate pantheon of familiar spirits, gods, and demi-gods (half human/half god ‘supermen’) that exist to explain and affect/control phenomena. They are appeased to give primitive or aboriginal man, a level of control over his environment.

    1. Different from pantheism in that the animist does not see/value living beings because they comprise a larger divinity, rather, the animist values beings for their own sake.

    2. The 'gods' in the animistic pantheon are restricted to operations within their departments of nature, are general in name, generic attributes, no individuality but part of a ‘class’ of their particular spirits10

    3. These “departmental” gods are not worshiped in the same way as polytheism but indeed lead to a polytheistic world view.>

  2. Who or what is man according to Animism? - In Animism, man is equal to the rest of creation, he must co-exist with this creation in a peaceful way so as to maintain a ‘friendly’ disposition of the spirits of other beings.

    1. Dakotas – believe in four souls: one stays with the corpse, one remains in the village, one goes into the air, and one goes to the land of souls. Euahlayi of Southeast Australia also believe that the human has multiple souls/spirits

    2. In some hunter-gatherer cultures, man is equated to animals, plants, and natural forces. Humans are considered a part of nature rather than superior to or separate from it.

    3. Humans possess souls, have life apart from human bodies before and after death, and animals, plants, and celestial bodies all have spirits.

  3. How does Animism solve the problem of evil?

    1. The animist lives in a world of tribal survival. This survival establishes social norms as well as a ‘loose’ moral code. Therefore, evil is anything that threatens the security of the tribe and/or the individual. This ‘evil’ is caused by good spirits who are angry or by evil spirits who are just simply evil. The animist attempts to ward off the anger of the good spirits (dead ancestors, gods, demi-gods, etc.) by performing sacrifices prior to a need required in their department: travel, harvest, reproduction, etc.

    2. Innumerable evil spirits manifest themselves in possession, lycanthropy, and/or disease. The evil spirits can not be appeased and therefore, the help of a shaman is required to cast the evil spirit out of an individual and ultimately out of the community.

    3. Ritual is essential for survival of the tribe in that it wins the favor of the spirits of one’s source of food, shelter, and fertility. It also wards off malevolent spirits8

    4. Ceremonies of expulsion are designed to banish evil spirits from the community.

  4. What does salvation and/or the afterlife look like to the Animist?

    1. According to EB Tylor, the animist believes in a spirit world that is arrived at via a spirit’s journey after leaving the body. If the spirit left the body as a result of murder or death at childbirth, it may return to the village as a malevolent spirit. There is no ‘heaven’ or ‘salvation’.

    2. Survival of the Dead – gave rise to the offering of food, lighting fires etc. at the grave, as an act of filial piety then became “ancestor worship” - This draws a direct ancestoral line between Animism and Shintoism of the Japanese

    3. Widespread respect was paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors.

    4. Navajo – The spirit remains on the earth as a sometimes malignant ghost.

Groups of Animists In The World Today - By Continent


North America:
Inuit, Metis, Aleut, Yupik (Eskimo), Paiute, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, Lakota, Blackfoot, Apache
(Native American Indians)

Central America:
Santaria (Cuban), Vodou (Haiti, Jamaica)Chocho, Cocopa, Tephuan, Mazatec, Yucatan Maya, Zapotec,

South America: Amazonian Tribes
Guiana Indians
Bora, Yora, Tupi, Secoya, Nasa, Kuna, Mapuche, Korubu, Aymara

Vodun (West Africa gave rise to Vodou in the Caribbean), Yoruba, Mbundu, Mbuti (Pygmies), Chokwe, Bushongo, Lugbara, Dinka, Lotuko, Akamba, Masai, Malagasy, Lozi, Tumbuka, Zulu, Akan, Dahomey, Efik, Odinani, Serer, Yoruba, Bakongo, Taino, Nubian, Tuareg

(Aborigine Tribes primarly practicing Animism - if any religion at all)Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi, Koori, Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte, Luritja, Warlpiri, Yamatji

Shenism, Nakhi - Dongbaism, Muism, Sinism, Gosindo, Pungwoldos (Korean Shamanism), Ijun (Okinawan Animist Shamanism), Koshinto (Japanese
pre-Shinto Shamanism), Mun, Yungdrung Bon (Tibetan Shamanism
pre-Buddhist) Turco Mongol (Central Asian Shamanism) Tengrism
(Turkish Shamans)
Kemetism (Egyptian Paganism) Manchu Shamanism,
Ua Dab (Southeast Asia Animisim)

Neo-Paganists, Wiccans,
Neo-Celtic Pagans
German Heathenism (17 subsets of Germanic neopaganism), Semitic Pagans,
Neo-Druidism, Rodnovery (Slavic Neo-Paganism) Romuva
(Baltic Revival of PreChristian paganism)
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