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Animism is a growing ‘religion’, and it is timely

I am interested in animism but what is it? It is difficult to understand from articles because it is a belief system. It is not scientific, and I like science. But if you go into a forest with an open mind and feel the presence of the trees and ‘talk’ to them they talk back. That happens to me and therefore I probably believe in animism and even practice it without realising what I am doing.

Shamans from the organization Tengeri conduct an offering ritual in 2013 to Bukhe Bator, the spirit master of the Selenga River, Republic of Buryatia, Russian Federation

Shamans from the organization Tengeri conduct an offering ritual in 2013 to Bukhe Bator, the spirit master of the Selenga River, Republic of Buryatia, Russian Federation. Roberto Quijada, CC BY-NC

I will have to provide my view on what it means. They may be mistaken. Perhaps it means different things to different people. Animism assigns souls and sentience to nonhuman and non-animal objects. It is an attempt to understand the humans’ place in the world. To answer the questions: why are we here? What is the best way to live (ontology)?

It is a kind of a religion but not a religion in the conventional sense in which people worship a deity, normally a man which seems sexist to me. Religions are human constructs to make living more palatable.

Animism is bigger and perhaps better than that. In the words of Justine Buck Quijada writing for The Conversation: “Instead of human dominion over the landscape, in animist cosmologies, humans live under the dominion of the landscape around them.” It puts the arrogant human in their place. It should humble the human. A good thing.

A timely development as humankind needs to curb its excesses and learn to respect the natural world. Economic growth which has to have a limit, is the destroyer of the natural world.

It seems that believers in animism recognise their place in nature which is the world and understand that humans are part of it and not distanced from it. And also recognising that ‘places and plants have power over humans’.

Hasn’t this philosophy become very evident with global warming. If humans disrespect nature and wantonly exploit nature as they have, nature strikes back and says enough is enough and nature then harms humans through extreme weather.

Global warming is a recognition that ‘humans live under the dominion of the landscape around them’. By ‘landscape’ I mean nature and all of nature. Pretty well everything that is not human.

Some people say that animism gives souls to inanimate objects like mountains. The term was first used by Edward Burnett Tylor in 1870. He said that entities that deemed to be inanimate by people in the West such as rivers, trees and mountains have souls.

He believed that animism was the first stage in the development of religion. Pre-religion. A primitive sort of religion. Perhaps it is the only true religion. At least believers are not believing in a mythical man with extraordinary powers.

Conventional religions such as Christianity are human centric. Everything revolves around humans. Humans have dominion over animals in the bible. This is a very bad start in our relationship with animals and nature. The current widespread abuses of animals, wild and domestic, is a legacy of this false concept.

Animism is more respectful of nature and rightly so. It seeks to establish humans’ place within nature and an acceptance that nature is more powerful than humankind. It is a form of paganism, isn’t it?

Buck Quijada sums it up nicely in writing: “Animism describes practices that establish a relationship between places and people, usually one that recognizes places, animals and plants have power over people.”

Is it fair to say that people who are less well developed technologically are more connected to the environment? They have tribal rituals in which they ‘pray’ to elements of nature such as rivers and mountains. Big tech seems to have distanced humankind from animism concepts. It is too dry. It lacks a spirit. It is too logical.

Animism is very spiritual. King Charles III would like animism and probably does. He is very much into a recognition of the spiritual side of human life and a need to connect with it.

The difficulty with animism is that it is a vague philosophy that many young people particularly will find hard to understand. The words used to describe it almost make it harder to understand.

The best way to understand it is to feel it. Sit within nature, the landscape, the forest, the mountains and feel it. You then understand animism. Many people feel the wonder of nature when they visit beautiful, natural place. They feel a connection with and a wonder of the natural world, the planet that sustains them.

Without realising it, they understand animism.

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