Native Animism

Religions, Cults & Worldviews: Valuable Answers for Valid Questions.

Practitioners of Native Animism
100-200 million
Animism Founded
Animism is ancient and has no established organisational structure or history but according to the Biblical account, most likely began around 2250 B.C. consistent with the time of King Nimrod and the Tower of Babel whereby languages were confused and mankind dispersed globally by the God of the Bible.
Animist Philosophy of Religion
Animistic: being more "non-theist" than "theist", animism does not fit neatly into either category and therefore has its own view of the world. Like modern-day occultist/nature worshipers – some animists view life as being in everything, and everything, even man, supporting life (a variation on pantheism) and spirits can float around after death haunting relatives or tribes
Founders of Animism
Native animism, tribalism, indiginous spritism and the myriad of other spiritist forms have no single founder or codified history of development.
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Definition of Animism or "Native Religion"

“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.

Authoritatitve Writings for Animism

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).

Verbal tradition
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)

Animist Beliefs and Practices

 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.

Tree and Plant Spirits

Trees and plants were worshiped as totems

            1. Usually an animal or other naturalistic figure that spiritually represents a person or, more likely, a clan or because of their usefulness and beauty.

            2. Trees are sometimes regarded as maternal deities

            3. The Soma plant of India, coca shrub of Peru, Rice of the East Indies, and maize mother of the Americas were/are all worshiped.

Animals

Sometimes animists regard animals as relatives or deities (c.f. Hinduism – Cow; North American Natives - "Spirit of the Eagle" etc.)

            1. Nayaka of India, Ojibwa of Southern central Canada – hold that there are ‘rock’ and ‘eagle’ persons in addition to ‘human’ persons.

Shamanism

Shamans/priests who possess spiritual powers greater than or external to the normal human perform the rituals. Regarded for their supposed visits to the netherworld Are called on to “channel” spirits for the sake of an individual or tribe.

            1. 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).

Who or What is god to the Animist?

  • Basically, there is no Supreme God for the animist, but rather an elaborate pantheon of familiar spirits, gods, and demigods (half human/half god ‘supermen’) that exist to explain and affect/control phenomena. They are appeased to give primitive or aboriginal man, a level of control over his environment.
  • Different from pantheism in that the animist does not see/value living beings because they comprise a larger divinity, rather, the animist values beings for their own sake.
  • The ‘gods’ in the animistic pantheon are restricted to operations within their departments of nature, are general in name, generic attributes, no individuality but part of a ‘class’ of their particular spirits (10)
  • These “departmental” gods are not worshiped in the same way as polytheism but indeed lead to a polytheistic world view.

Who or What is man to the Animist?

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.

    1. Dakotas – believe in four souls: one stays with the corpse, one remains in the village, one goes into the air, and one goes to the land of souls. Euahlayi of Southeast Australia also believe that the human has multiple souls/spirits
    2. In some hunter-gatherer cultures, man is equated to animals, plants, and natural forces. Humans are considered a part of nature rather than superior to or separate from it.
    3. Humans possess souls, have life apart from human bodies before and after death, and animals, plants, and celestial bodies all have spirits.
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The Animist Approach to the "Problem of Evil"

Evil spirits

 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.

Threat of evil

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

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.

Existing Groups of Animists - By Continent

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.

The Americas

North America

Inuit, Metis, Aleut, Yupik (Eskimo), Paiute, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Sioux, Lakota, Blackfoot, Apache
(Native American Indians), Neo-paganists, Wiccans

Central America

Santaria (Cuban), Vodou (Haiti, Jamaica)Chocho, Cocopa, Tephuan, Mazatec, Yucatan Maya, Zapotec, San Muerte (Death Cult)

South America

Amazonian Tribes, Guiana Indians, Bora, Yora, Tupi, Secoya, Nasa, Kuna, Mapuche, Korubu, Aymara

Other Continents

Africa

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

Europe

Neo-Paganists, Wiccans,
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)

Asia

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)

Australia

(Aborigine Tribes primarly practicing Animism – if any religion at all)Murrinh-Patha, Pintupi, Koori, Pitjantjatjara, Arrernte, Luritja, Warlpiri, Yamatji

Animism and the Afterlife

Spirit World
According to EB Tylor, the animist believes in a spirit world that is arrived at via a spirit’s journey after leaving the body. If the spirit left the body as a result of murder or death at childbirth, it may return to the village as a malevolent spirit.
No Hope of Redemption
There is no ‘heaven’ or ‘salvation’ for the animist. They, like the rest of mankind outside the saving grace of God provided in Jesus, live in a constant state of fear and desperation as they consider death.
Survival of the Dead
This belief gave rise to the offering of food, lighting fires etc. at the grave, as an act of filial piety then became “ancestor worship” - This draws a direct ancestoral line between Animism and Shintoism of the Japanese, possibly even the polytheism of the Egyptians.
Possessed Animals
Widespread respect was paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors.
Wandering Spirits
According to the Navajo Indians of Southwestern United States, the spirit remains on the earth as a sometimes malignant ghost. This is in stark contrast to the truth of God's word in Hebrews 9:27 "As it is appointed for man to die once, after that is the judgement."
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A Final Analysis of Animism

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!

References

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
13. Smith, Huston The Religions of Man 1958 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
14. Offner, Clark B. The World’s Religions 1976 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
15. Noss, John B. Man’s Religions 1969 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
16. Hume, Robert E. The World’s Living Religions 1959 as reprinted in Handbook of Today’s Religions
17. Singh, Parveen article: Islam Probe Ministries & www.leaderu.com
18. Diller, Daniel C. The Middle East 1994 as reprinted in the article “Islam” by Parveen Singh
19. Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language 1995