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What is animism?

It is the idea that all things, including people, animals, geographic features, natural phenomena and inanimate objects, have a spirit that connects them to one another.

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

In most cases, animism is not considered a religion per set, 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.

Currently, it can be identified in different ways in the main religions of the modern world.

Origin of animism

Historians believe that animism is central 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 B.C., 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.

Aristotle defined living beings as things that have a spirit in On the Soul, published in 350 BC.

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

Although many thinkers wanted 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 the most ancient religious practices.

Animism within religions

As a result of Tyler's work, animism is commonly associated with primitive cultures, but elements of animism can be seen 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 a belief in spirits, known as kami, that inhabit all things, a belief that links modern Shinto with ancient animistic practices.

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

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

In contrast, the Inuit, the Eskimo people of the arctic region from 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, as 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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