Anonymous asked: Hi I was wondering if it isn’t too much of a bother if you could tell me about animism

hildewestacre answered: No trouble at all. Thanks for your question.

The dictionary definition of animism is:

“the belief that natural objects, natural phenomena, and the universe itself possess souls.”

‘Soul’ here is a translation for the Latin word ‘anima’, which means ‘breath, spirit, soul, life principle’ and is the basis for the word animism.

That definition seems to imply that things in nature have some characteristics that we usually only associate with humans: a soul, an independent life, desires and intentions, a level of agency. You get images of a fairy tale world where animals speak and trees walk.

Saying that beings other than humans have a soul, though, doesn’t need to imply that they have the same kind of soul as a human being. Animists would say, though, that each has its own life, as valuable as our human life, and has its right to exist and flourish freely in the world. We call them other-than-human persons.

In other words, to the modern animist, the word ‘soul’ implies personhood. What we and the beings we share our planet with have in common, is that we are persons in our own right.

Within Western philosophy, there is a tradition of thought that mind and matter are not separate. Maybe mind is an essential characteristic of matter; maybe it’s the other way around. But what it leaves us with is the idea that all matter is ‘minded’.

And because trees, animals, forests and storms, to name but a few, are ‘minded’ and are persons, we can make relationships with them that are of mutual benefit. Practically speaking, this means that animists seek to live their lives in a way that respects the personhood of other-than-human beings and their right to flourish.

As a way of life, this may mean that animists say prayers to plants before they cut them. Or that they leave offerings of thanksgiving to an apple tree when they harvest its fruit. They may explicitly ask a herb for help before using it as a medicine, and offer a song in return. Some people may go deeper and work shamanicly with other-than-human beings, meeting their spirits in Otherworld journeys to ask them for advice and assistance.

The Pagan paths we are familiar with have, in my opinion, a strong thread of animism running through it. My own Druid tradition, for example, teaches ways to honour and connect with trees and other persons in nature. Wicca and Heathenism have their own ways of honouring other-than-human persons.

If you would like to find out more, try these:

Two posts about animism I wrote earlier this year

Spirit of place: who do you share your space with?

Getting to know the spirit of place

Interesting books are

Graham Harvey, Animism: Respecting the living world

David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World

Emma Restall Orr, The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature

Edit: I added another book, which is a crucial one in the field of animism. Itslipped my mind when I posted. I have nearly 90 notes on this post now. That’s the most I’ve ever had. Thank you so much for liking and reblogging. I am always willing to answer questions, so if you enjoyed this answer, ask me anything 🙂


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