“Animism (the word) is derived from the Latin word anima meaning breath or soul” – E. B. Tylor
Animism is a belief in animate spirits which sometimes occupy inanimate objects like the Sun, moon, trees, rivers, etc. All beings alive or not possess spirits.
This belief provides the animist with an explanation of various phenomena like droughts, famines, untimely deaths etc. Animism is practiced the world around, even in fully developed “first world” nations. Animism originated, according to the the following record provided in the Bible:
“…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” – Romans 1:21-25
Although animism shares the identical origination of polytheism, Animism differs greatly from polytheism in that usually, the animate spirit is more revered as an object of magic for manipulation rather than the recipient of religious rites or worship. It is not too much of a stretch to surmise that the animist belief in “departmental spirits in nature” could very well have led to the gods of ancient polytheism and the ancestoral worship of Vodun in Africa, Shintoism and Taoism of the far east.
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 practitioners).
Animism is so widely varied, orally transmitted, and primarily belonging to nomadic, tribes with unwritten tradition, that no authoritative writings exist (nor have ever been deemed necessary by practicing Animists).
Essentially, to pursue wisdom or understanding within the animist construct, one would simply consult the shaman or “high priest/holy man” of the tribe and either he would speak from his understanding or would consult the spirits much like a psychic medium might do today. This “knowledge” might be gained by reading a series of bones dropped in a specific pattern (c.f. I-Ching of Confucianism) or by sifting through the shapes and formations of the entrails of a dead pig or other animal, etc.
This, to the animist, would accomplish a similar purpose to that of a Buddhist or Hindu who seek to gain the “meaning” of a particular situation or of life itself. Even though Hinduism has its own series of writings, still the Hindu priest plays the primary role for providing wisdom and spiritual authority of life.
The three world religions which rely primarily on sacred writings for authority are: Christianity – Bible; Islam – Qu-ran; and Confucianism – 9 books; ancient Judaism would have fit into this category however, modern Rabbinic Judaism would not, as it primarily relies on the wisdom of Rabbis and Rabbinical tradition (c.f. Roman Catholic Christianity – Popes, Councils)
According to E.B. Tylor (6), souls not only pass between humans but into plants, animals, and inanimate objects as well. Tylor posits that animism is the basis for all religions. However this theory, like evolution, is counter to observable science in that chaos doesn’t naturally result in perfect order as it violates the second law of thermodynamics. The disorganised chaos and animalistic superstition practiced by animists cannot suddenly produce a hyper-ordered belief in an all-powerful monotheistic God and a perfectly codified moral law.
Rather 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 of animism and polytheism. It is far more plausible that those created by a perfect God can, through sin, rebellion and deception, degrade into worshiping created things instead of the Creator whom they hate.
Usually an animal or other naturalistic figure that spiritually represents a person or, more likely, a clan or because of their usefulness and beauty.
Trees are sometimes regarded as maternal deities
The Soma plant of India, coca shrub of Peru, Rice of the East Indies, and maize mother of the Americas were/are all worshiped.
Nayaka of India, Ojibwa of Southern central Canada – hold that there are ‘rock’ and ‘eagle’ persons in addition to ‘human’ persons.
Head Shrinking – This practice is/was carried out against tribal war enemies with the belief that it traps the spirit in the head to prevent escape from the body and transmigration to another body or predatory animal (9).
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.
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.
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.
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
Ceremonies of expulsion are designed to banish evil spirits from the community.
Of note: Yazdanism – Kurdish form of polytheism/pantheism is VERY similar to Hinduism in its infrastructure of multiple deities vs multiple bad deities. What makes it unique is that it incorporates Christian, Islamic, and ancient near east polytheism.
Inuit, Metis, Aleut, Yupik (Eskimo), Paiute, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, Lakota, Blackfoot, Apache
(Native American Indians), Neo-paganists, Wiccans
Santaria (Cuban), Vodou (Haiti, Jamaica)Chocho, Cocopa, Tephuan, Mazatec, Yucatan Maya, Zapotec, San Muerte (Death Cult)
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
Neo-Celtic Pagans (reconstructionists)
German Heathenism (17 subsets of Germanic neopaganism), Semitic Pagans,
Neo-Druidism, Rodnovery (Slavic Neo-Paganism) Romuva
(Baltic Revival of PreChristian paganism)
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)
(Aborigine Tribes primarly practicing Animism – if any religion at all)Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi, Koori, Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte, Luritja, Warlpiri, Yamatji
The animist lives in a constant state of torment which is completely consistent with what the word of God says regarding those who live in stubborn rejection of Him,
“The way of the transgressor is hard” – Proverbs 13:15
This might lead some to question whether the animist in his/her ignorance ofJesus are really deserving of eternal separation from God (Hell). To whom I would point out the verses which precede those quoted from Romans at the top of this page:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” – Romans 1:18-20
The truth is that all mankind has the knowledge of God surrounding him in creation and the moral law of God implanted within him so that he knows he is doing wrong against that God. This is plenty to lead the animist on a journey to seek his Creator and cry for mercy. But, like those of us in the Western world, they refuse to seek God and they like all of mankind, suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Rightly did our Lord Jesus speak of these animists and all the rest of mankind when He said,
“He who believes in Him(Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” – John 3:18-21
All good and perfect gifts come down from the Father of Lights (God) and the Animist is enjoying food, shelter, friendship, family, comfort, amusement, laughter, rain for his crops, animals for his nets and so much more which all come from the good, kind, generous nature of God. When God finally separates Himself from the animist, he will have none of these things but only all things that are not from God: agony, torment, pain, suffering, lonliness, heat when they are hot and cold when they are freezing – all good things that only God provides will be gone – no friendship, no comraderie, no rest.
It is for this reason that Christians should pray about what they can do to reach out to the animist with the good news of the Gospel: That Jesus, the Son of God, has come in the flesh and bore their sin (and our sin) on the cross if only they would come to Him and ask for His mercy and forgiveness. Jesus says, “If any man come to Me, I will in NO wise cast him out”. This is the good news, that Christ paid the price of our sins on the cross and that if we put our faith in Him for the forgiveness of our sins, we are born again, sins washed away and given a new life, new heart and life everlasting. There is NO better news than that!
1. Johnstone, Patrick Operation World 2001
2. Adherents.com (defunct site): created circa January 2000. Last modified 28 August 2005.
3. Mcdowell, Josh & Don Stewart Handbook of Today’s Religions 1983
4. Geisler, Norman Christian Apologetics 1983
5. Lehmann, Arthur C. and James E. Myers, Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion: An Anthropological Study 1993
6. Tylor, Edward Burnett Primitive Culture 1871
7. Hefner, Alan G. & Virgilio Guimaraes Article: Animism www.themystica.com
8. Bird-David, Nurit. Animism Revisited: Personhood, environment, and relational epistemology” 1991
9. Hallowell, A. Irving Culture in History 1960
10. Frazer, James G. The Golden Bough 1922
11. Maharaj, Rabi Death of a Guru 1984
12. Rood, Rick article: Hinduism, A Christian Perspective Probe Ministries & www.leaderu.com
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16. Hume, Robert E. The World’s Living Religions 1959 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
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