“…in the Judeo-Christian West, we tend to define ourselves by the distance we’ve put between ourselves and nature…” – Michael Pollan The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, “Intoxication Plant Marijuana”
n. the attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena
n. the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe
Animism is derived from the Latin word animus (soul or life).
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Many anthropologists ceased using the term “animism”, deeming it to be too close to early anthropological theory and religious polemic. However, the term had also been claimed by religious groups – namely indigenous communities and nature worshipers – who felt that it aptly described their own beliefs, and who in some cases actively identified as “animists”.
Animism is not the same as pantheism, although the two are sometimes confused. Some religions are both pantheistic and animistic. One of the main differences is that while animists believe everything to be spiritual in nature, they do not necessarily see the spiritual nature of everything in existence as being united (monism), the way pantheists do. As a result, animism puts more emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual soul. In pantheism, everything shares the same spiritual essence, rather than having distinct spirits and/or souls.
The basic tenet of animism is at the heart of many indigenous cultures – with Native Americans being the most obvious example. But elements of animism can be found in the religious/belief systems of Shinto, Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Egypt, North American Inuits, Mesoamericans, the Celts, Australian Aboriginals, and Modern Pagans (i.e., “Mother Nature”) – just to name a few.
In addition to Nature Worship, animism incorporates both Shamanism and Totemism. I’m throwing in Spirit Animals just for the heck of it…
Nature Worship ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Nature worship is any of a variety of religious, spiritual and devotional practices that focus on the worship of the nature spirits considered to be behind the natural phenomena visible throughout nature.” link
Even though I was raised Episcopalian and occasionally enjoyed Sunday sermons, “organized” religion(s) never did much for me. I’ve always had a stronger bond with Nature and its inherent mysteries, so I figured writing about Nature Worship would be an easy, no-brainer for me. Boy was I wrong! While researching this topic, I discovered a plethora of attitudes regarding what is/isn’t “Nature Worship”. For instance: There are some that view Nature Worship as a variety of Pantheism, while others dispute this point. My own belief leans towards the idea that all living things share a connective energy. (I am one with the Universe, and the Universe is one with me.) This appeared to be a Pantheist’s point of view, but I balk at the “God” concept. So what’s a girl to do? Take a Quiz, of course!!
Are you Atheist, Agnostic, Pantheist, Deist, Pagan or what?
(I am equally Dualist Pantheist & Literal Pagan/New Age – whatever that may mean.)
Let’s take away all the confusing rhetoric and simply say that if you have an affinity for (or a connection to) all living things AND believe in preternatural forces, then you’re a Nature Worshiper. You are in good company. Consider these men and women who were deemed Nature-Worshipers:
Percy & Mary Shelley
Religion and Nature
Shamanism ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with what they believe to be a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.” link
It can be tricky to discern the differences between shamanism, witchcraft, and sorcery; but a Shaman will typically attain a trance-like state in order to act as an intermediary/messenger between the human and spirit/preternatural worlds. He/she may also practice divination, spiritual healing, fortune-telling, and employ animal spirit guides on their “vision quests”.
…to distinguish shamans from other magico-religious specialists who are believed to contact spirits, such as “mediums”, “spiritual healers” or “prophets,” by claiming that shamans undertake some particular technique not used by the others. link
Some types of Shamans: Kamisama (Shinto), Angakkuq (Inuit), Native American Medicine Man, Witch Doctor, Houngan/Mambo (Voodoo/Vodou), and Kahuna (Hawaiian).
The Shaman corresponds to the Magician Archteype.
Do you recognize these Shamans from Mythology, Literature, or Hollywood:
The Norse God Odin
Three-Eyed Raven (Game of Thrones)
Rafiki (The Lion King)
Kicking Bird (Dances with Wolves)
Yoda (Star Wars)
Morpheus (The Matrix)
Medicine Cats (Warrior Cats)
Don Juan, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
(by Carlos Castaneda – who was a Shaman himself)
The Shaman Portal
Trickster, Shaman, Healer
Totemism ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
n. a natural object or animal that is believed by a particular society to have
spiritual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem
n. a person or thing regarded as being symbolic or representative of a
particular quality or concept
There are many instances of cultural totemism, such as: Australian Aborigines, African Pygmies, Native American tribes, Mongols, and tribal India.
Forms of totemism
Each of two social or ritual groups (within a tribe)
Each of four social or ritual groups (within a tribe)
Each of eight social or ritual groups (within a tribe)
Multiple (where people across groups share one totem)
Functions of totemism
Association with a cult
One belief having multiple meanings
Assisting a healer
The term totem is derived from the Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning “one’s brother-sister kin.” The grammatical root, ote, signifies a blood relationship between brothers and sisters who have the same mother and who may not marry each other. In English, the word totem was introduced in 1791 by a British merchant and translator who gave it a false meaning in the belief that it designated the guardian spirit of an individual, who appeared in the form of an animal… link
Native American Culture: Totemism
The differences between traditional and Pagan totemism
The Mental Condition of Savages
Spirit Animals ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Bet you’re wondering why there’s a photo of a spectacularly beautiful black panther (leopard) attached to this section. The Black Panther just happens to be my Totem Animal – also called Power Animal, Spirit Animal, and Familiar (more below).
(Sound “familiar”? I have a smaller version of this beauty living with me! )
So, here’s the story:
I was a Sophomore in Junior High. At the time, we lived in the foothills of East San Jose. Not quite rural, but rural-esque. Our house sat at the bottom of a hill. On sunny days, I’d kick-back on the hillside and enjoy the panoramic view of the valley below.
So one day I was tramping through the browned grasses looking for a place to park – when all of a sudden a black shape appeared in front of me. It was a black panther. (My Dad insisted I’d seen a dog, but I know the difference between a cat’s body and a dog’s.)
I gazed at the cat. The cat gazed at me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished into the hillside.
That night I dreamed of BEING a black panther on the hunt. This dream repeated itself several nights after that.
The Black Panther has been connected to me ever since…
A Spirit Animal is defined as being a personal teacher or messenger who appears in the form of an animal to guide and protect you on your life’s journey. It’s believed that the animal chooses you, rather than the other way around; however, it may align with an animal you feel inexplicably drawn to or one that has resonated with you since childhood. (Cats of all shapes and sizes have always been my “thing”. I like to say I came out of the womb loving them!) Spirit Animals may also be called Animal Guides, Spirit Helpers, or Power Animals.
“Power animal” is a concept that was introduced in 1980 by Michael Harner in The Way of the Shaman.
The use of this term has been incorporated into the New Age movement, where it is often mistaken for being the same as a totem in some indigenous cultures. The concept has also entered popular culture in various forms, such as in the 1999 film (and earlier novel) Fight Club, when the narrator attends a cancer support group. During a creative visualization exercise, he is told to see himself entering a cave where he will meet his power animal. When he does, he imagines a penguin is speaking to him.
There seems to be some confusion on the definition of “Animal Totem“. Some say it’s a symbolic representation of your Spirit Animal, while others claim it’s an animal spirit you invoke; and while the term Familiar conjures up the animal companions of witches, “A familiar spirit…is the alter-ego, of an individual…Even though it may have an independent life of its own, it remains closely linked to the individual…The familiar is a spiritual entity that will appear as a facilitator in the communion of the human, animal and spirit realms.” link
Personally, I don’t think you should worry about the nomenclature. Let the “animal other” speak to you, guide you, and inspire you with its traits, skills, and strengths.
Spirit Animal Quiz: WHO is YOUR animal spirit guide?
Wikipedia: Shamanism and Animals
Animal Totem Meanings and Symbolism
Animal Spirit Guides
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Looking for more on Animism?
Why knowing Animism is Necessary to Reach Hindus
Thailand’s Animist Practices and Beliefs
First Peoples of Canada
Australian Aboriginal Spiritual Beliefs
Animism in Modern Africa