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Animism

My Take on the Belief in Spiritual Essence of all Objects, Places, and People

Photo by Alexandra Radu 

Animism may be the basis of all religion. This is a world view, and not necessarily a religion. As I have read on Britannica, animism was described by 1800s European conquerors as a "primitive superstition," this tribal belief so differed from the ones of European missionaries.   

What is animism? (The whole point of clicking this link.)

Animists believe that all life is spirit. It is truly an understanding of what the world is. So, not only do humans have souls, but so do plants, trees, animals, insects, rocks, mountains, and even the weather. It is the belief that even trees have moods. They are capable of being offended or wooed, and that your life and the ancestors are still in full communication through totems. It is not that death is the final step in a person's life, but rather the individual's "different stage of perpetual existence." Even today, in the west, we still hold on to the beliefs of northern European tribes and clans from the idea of days in the week to western weddings.

In my view, if we believe that all objects have a soul, we will treat our air as more sacred, our grass as something not to throw trash on, or walk more mindfully kissing the ground with our feet. We'll know that we are really walking on our ancestors that lie embedded within the concrete.

I agree with some aspects of animism that believe we can talk to our ancestors and spirit guides, or that we are connected to our communities as brothers and sisters from lives that we did not get to encounter from the past. If every century of human existence lives intermixed, and new leaders rise and fall, the constants lie in the fact that water is a pure source, the sun bakes our skin when we tan in the summer, the cute blue jays and yellow canary birds tweet and flutter across our windows, and dandelions float their weeds from the winds gentle guide. I mean we live in a wondrous place where destruction can form, and great highs can be gifted to individuals based on environment and resources. So, why not attribute that to the souls that lie within every form of matter? 

Some concrete examples of animism include:

In Thailand there are spirit houses, a range from little to grand, that house the spirit of the land. It is also considered a shrine that honors the guardians of the land. Offerings can be made to spirit houses such as coconuts, flowers, fruits, or fried rice. Inside the house are aromas of incense, figurines, or money bags. Their animistic tradition claims that humans are a branch of nature that have to contribute to re-balance Earth's natural phenomenon such as thunderstorms or earthquakes. Each village brings their unique spin to their spirit houses through local foods, songs, and dances. Not only do spirit houses honor the past inhabitants of the land, but they also provide its modern day people with protection in their emotional relationships, with financial security, granting wishes, or even having the power to harm others. 

Another example of animism comes from Africa. It is a common belief that violating rules or taboos can lead to hardships, illness, or curses. To counteract these effects certain rituals, sacrifices, and offerings are performed in order to restore harmony. Many Senegalese people wear amulets called Gris-Gris around their waist, arms, neck, or legs. And people consult healers or marabouts (religious figures) to protect themselves from evil spirits, bring love, or improve financial status. 

In the image below, a Senegalese wrestler at this Cham (family shrine) is blessed with the strength and support of his ancestors.

Check out this entire Christian Bobst photo series, Ritual and Sport, about Senegalese wrestlers.

This is similar to the way that we consult our astrology based on our signs (mine is Aquarius), or talking to a psychic about speaking to loved ones that passed, or wanting a guide when choosing a job. I believe that spirit is alive, nature is alive, and balance is key to any healthy relationship whether that be spiritual, with nature, or a partner. Be gentle with nature. In my view, God will bring out exactly the desires of the heart. 

Mah Meri Indigenous Malaysian Ceremony Thanksgiving of the Spirit to the Sea 

If what I said made no sense, feel free to watch the video below by International Missions Board about animism simplified: 

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