What is Animism?

Kathleen Gresham

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Animism is the belief that all things have spirit and that all spirits are one. There is no separateness, no hierarchy. All spirits are equal, because all spirits are part of the oneness.

Animism lacks the duality of later belief systems: good/bad, negative/positive, and so on. In animism, values are thought of more as a spectrum from less powerful to more powerful, from less harmonious to more harmonious.

Although many people have never heard of animism, it is the oldest belief system. Shamanism developed from it. Many indigenous people still live in animist cultures.

In animism, humans do not consider themselves to be the center of the universe. For example, many animals are stronger, fiercer, faster, or smarter about certain things than humans. Many animals can do things that humans cannot, as fly through the air, live underwater, and so on.

Trees are stronger than humans, and they live much longer. Trees have their own spirits and knowledge and are revered by many cultures.

Stones are known to be much older and wiser than humans. Their vibrations are not disturbed by ours, but they can affect us.

Mountains have been revered from the earliest times as wise and powerful spirit beings. The same applies to oceans, rivers, lakes, and so on.

Animism Is the Oldest Spiritual Belief System

Animism is the oldest spiritual belief system known. Anthropologists and archeologists have found evidence for animism dating back at least 70,000 years.

Fully modern, large-brained human beings have existed for about 250,000 years. Originally humans were gatherers and scavengers. Eventually humans learned to hunt animals instead of just scavenging dead ones.

Until around 10 to 12,000 years ago, all peoples were gatherers and hunters. Many still are. The gatherers, who are the women, generally provide 75 to 85 percent of the food. More in some cultures, less in others.

Anthropologists know from intensely studying indigenous gathering-hunting peoples that the usual belief system for such peoples, all over the world, is animism.

Animists Are Humble

The oldest peoples were and are very small in stature. Even now there are indigenous people in Central Asia (Nepal), in South America (Peru, Ecuador) and in Africa (the Bushmen) who are under 5 feet tall and very slightly built. Many animals are much larger, faster, and stronger than they are.

Early humans lived through ice ages when many animals were huge, such as 10-foot-long saber-toothed cats and 12-foot tall woolly mammoths. Even after the ice ages ended, large predators such as lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, and bears were much larger and fiercer than humans.

Humans could not run as fast as cheetahs or deer, did not have claws like big cats or badgers, could not fly like a bird or an insect. Humans were humble. They were not the top of the food chain.

Like traditional gathering-hunting peoples today, early humans knew that the animals were their older brothers and sisters. They watched the animals and learned from them by observation and in dreams and visions.

Humans knew that the trees were even older and that tree spirits held special knowledge. They knew that the spirits of the stones, the mountains, the rivers, and the oceans were even older, and that each had its own special knowledge, too.

Receiving Messages from the Spirits

In animist cultures all people pay attention to the messages received in dreams and visions. In order to be in harmony with spirit and with nature, to be happy and to survive, animists pay attention to the messages from animals, plants, stones and other spirits.

Some people are naturally much better at communicating with spirits. Eventually some people learned to go into a deep trance and journey to the spirit world to help others. They were the first shamans.

Want to know more about how shamanism began, about women as shamans, shamanic healing, spirit animals, shamanic journeying, and animism? Visit http://www.shamanista.com and http://shamanista.blogspot.com

White Cranes has taught and led shamanism groups since 1992 and is the organizer of a 135-member Shamanism Meetup group.


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