FAQ


Animism: Frequently Asked Questions

Animism is undergoing a kind of renaissance of interest finding its way not just into popular culture but also scientific/philosophical discussion. This page offers some quick answers to basic questions. Readers interested in learning more are directed to our bibliography page

This list of questions was compiled based on the most common google search queries on the topic of animism. And so we have tried to answer them.

However, there is a saying that the most crucial step towards true understanding is learning to ask the right questions. And we feel that these are not really found within the list below. And so we would like to propose a second list, containing some of the questions which we feel anyone genuinely interested in animism as a modern spiritual practice should be willing to ask themselves. Animism: a list of the questions that should be asked

What is animism?
Where is animism found?
What beliefs do animists share?
Who is the founder of animism?
Does animism have a god?
Does animism have a sacred text or holy book?
Does animism have a place of worship?
What is the origin of animism?
What are the symbols of animism?
What are the animist holidays?
What are some animist rituals or practices?


What is Animism?

The canon definition:
The original definition of animism is the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. This idea traces back to the beginnings of anthropology with Sir Edward Burnett Tylor who saw animism as the starting point for all religion. Left there, the idea could have been harmless but like a katamari  it rolled downhill and quickly gathered up a lot of toxic waste. Victorian assumptions of white supremacy combined with modernism dismissed animism as something quaint or childlike and only practised by ‘primitive’ people.

An emerging consensus:
Animism is a word that needs to be de-colonized. Participants have known what animism is all along of course but the academy of philosophers and social scientists have begun the process of de-tangling the word from its racist past. There are multiple parts to this new definition.

a. The first comes from biological science about the reality of our place in nature. David Suzuki sums it up nicely:

“There is no environment ‘out there’ separate from us. The environment is embedded in us. We are as much a part of our surroundings as the trees and birds and fish, the sky, water and rocks.”

c. The second is that animism is the experience of connection to the world. This may sound mystical but it is an everyday experience shared by most people. The sky might look moody, a dog is seen as a member of the family, an old machine’s idiosyncrasies are tolerated because you’ve been through so much together.

b. The third comes from philosophy. Animism is a relational epistemology. When faced with the question, “How do we know that we know?” Animism answers: we know the world through our complex relationships and connections with the world around us. Understanding can be verified through context and from multiple perspectives. Animists reject modernism and Cartesian subject-object dualism. The world is not truly mechanistic, inert or primarily about the individual. “I think therefore I am” could be replaced by ‘it isn’t all about you.” Life is complex. Sensation, intuition, emotions and interactive experiences are as important as thought.

d. The fourth is that animism isn’t something ‘primitive’ or a precursor to ‘advanced’ religions. It is a sophisticated point of view and currently experienced across the globe.
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Where is animism found?

Some sources incorrectly suggest that animism is only present in traditional tribal cultures, Shintoism and non-Abrahamic religions. In fact, animism is present across the globe. Animism is perhaps best described as an experience or philosophy rather than as a religion.
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What beliefs do animists share?

Animism is an experience of reality rather than a belief. Because this experience is shared by many cultures across the globe and over millennia there is a great diversity of belief. Perhaps one belief that may be shared in common is the idea that life is sacred and ought to be respected. Many animists also revere the ancestors of blood, land and spirit.
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Who is the founder of animism?

Animism probably dates to prehistory and across many cultures so it does not share a common founder. The anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor coined the English term in 1871.
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Does animism have a god?

Animism is a diverse global phenomenon. Belief ranges from atheism to polytheism.
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Does animism have a sacred text or holy book?

Animists who belong to a particular religion may treasure a holy book but generally speaking animists see the whole world as sacred. Ralph Austin wrote in the 17th century, “The world is a great library, and fruit trees are some of the books.” Spiritual understanding comes from one’s experience connecting with other people and the world.
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Do animists have a place of worship?

Animists who have connected to a religion may worship at a temple or shrine. Some animists have shrines or altars in their homes and gardens where ancestors and spirits are honoured. Generally speaking animists see the whole world as sacred.
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What is the origin of animism?

The experience of animism may date to prehistory. The anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor coined the English term in 1871.
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What are the symbols of animism?

The personal symbols of animism are as varied as the people participating.
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What are the animist holidays?

Animists who identify as neo-pagans celebrate solstice and equinox events. Animists who also identify as religious celebrate the events of their traditions.
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What are some animist rituals or practices?

Because animism is a global experience and one that may date to prehistory there is a great diversity of practice. Many animists honour their ancestors. Animists who identify as neo-pagans celebrate solstice and equinox periods. Religious animists celebrate the practices of their tradition. Generally speaking, animism is a DIY affair: a genuine, personal connection and participation with the world. This can range from practising mindfulness, creating art, going on a pilgrimage to engaging in magical acts. Anima Monday from time to time offers animism exercises designed to inspire reconnection with the world.
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