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A Complete Understanding of Animism With Examples

Understanding Animism With Examples
Animism is a belief that even the non-living things have souls. Let us try to understand more about this concept through examples given in this SpiritualRay post.
Christina Andrew
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
The word animism is derived from the Latin word 'animus' meaning soul, or life.
Reading this article from your computer or mobile screen? Listen up, it's alive! It has a soul. Don't believe me? Okay, let's see from an animist point of view. What is your screen made of?
  • It contains a thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) panel.
  • The panel is made of several blocks or pixels, and each pixel can be in any shape that can allow light to pass through it, or block light.
  • Each pixel is filled with liquid crystals.
  • Liquid crystals (LCs) are matter in a state that has properties between those of conventional liquid and those of solid crystal.
  • So, matter is composed of atoms. Atoms are the smallest units of matter.
The whole idea behind discussing your screen was the basic element that is used to make it―atoms. As we all know that ever part every tiny element in the human body is a living thing. Every muscle, every vein, every bone is made up of cells. And every cell is made up of atoms. Getting the connection?

If the atoms in us are living, then the atoms everywhere are living. Everything that you see around you has atom in it. Solid, gas, liquid, plasma are the four phases or states in which matter exists and atoms are present in all these states. And all that you can possibly see around you has either of these states. So, in short, everything has life. Everything has consciousness.
Green planet with man and dog
Animism states that the whole of planet Earth has consciousness. Everything, be it people, animals, plants, rocks, water, etc., they all have souls. It is a belief that the physical world is not separate from the spiritual world. The existence of souls and spirits are not just in humans, but also in plants, animals, rocks, and other entities like storm, lightening, thunder, shadows, etc.
This belief was mainly held by the indigenous tribal people, meaning, natives of several places throughout the world. Animism is a part of their culture, it so ordinary and regular for them that they don't have a separate word or definition for it. They just know it, and follow it, and that's the only thing they relate to spiritualism. Since they live amidst nature, they are very close to it, and worship and respect it.
Sir Edward Tylor
Sir Edward Tylor
The meaning of animism was in an ambiguous state of it referring to a broader perspective of religion or a whole religion itself, until English anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor, in the late 19th century, developed an acceptable definition of animism.
Tylor believed that the belief of animism is 'childish' and the result of cognitive underdevelopment, and hence, common amongst the primitive people. He never questioned their intelligence as compared to those of the Westerners, but knew that the difference in their thinking was only due to the lack of education.

Tylor's initiation into animism gave rise to a growing international debate on the nature of primitive society. As a result, a new science of interest developed―anthropology (the study of humans, past and present, that takes into consideration knowledge from the social sciences, life sciences, and humanities). The study of 'primitive society' led to an idea that this was an evolutionary society, which started exogamy marriages (marriages outside their society). Animism was their religion which then as the societies evolved, got developed into proper religions. As the societies started to develop cognitive understanding of science, the number of people believing in animism got lesser by the years. Although some primitive beliefs and rituals still remain in few places, which Tylor called 'survivals'.
Torii gate, Miyajima, Japan
▶ The traditional religion of Japan, Shinto, is animistic. In this religion, it is believed that kami, which is the spirit of nature, exists everywhere.
Victorian engraving of walrus hunt
▶ The Inuits (the people from the Canadian Arctic), follow a ritual while hunting an animal so as to not offend the 'soul' of the hunted animal, as it would bring bad luck to the hunter.
▶ In Medieval Europe, it was believed that every crop that grew embodied within itself a corn spirit. In some other districts, the spirit resided in an ox, or a hare or cock, while in others as an old man or woman.

▶ In the East Indies and Americas, rice or corn are known to be mother figures.

▶ In classical Europe and the East, Ceres and Demeter, Adonis and Dionysus, and other deities are linked to vegetation similar to that of the corn spirit.

▶ In the eastern parts of India, woodcutters appease the spirit of any tree which they have to cut down.

▶ In many parts of the world, the spirits of the dead are known to make trees their abode.

▶ In ancient Greece, in China, and in the north of Europe, the water or river spirit has a shape, that of a horse or a bull, and the water monster has the shape of a serpent.
Animism also finds mention in literature where human or living qualities are attributed to any non-living entities. You will find many examples of animism in the English language through fables, children stories, poems and novels. Like in the Aesop's fables, which is a famous collection of several short stories that have animals like foxes, frogs, dogs, cats, ants, etc., who converse with each other like humans, showing the human quality to speak. Implying that they possess a soul and can feel and think just like humans.

Thus, we can say that animism reflects the geographical environment, the spiritual, religious, or cultural history, of different people around the world through various distinct forms.