What Is Animism?

When enough people 's experience of the Earth is of an ancient, vital, sentient organism embedded in a vast, mysterious cosmos of awe inspiring power and beauty… we'll come together to protect what we love.

The God Head

My interest in Animism was sparked by a regular pilgrimage I would make to this spot called the God Head that I discovered buried in the Stanley Park rainforest near my home in the city of Vancouver.

It was carved by an anonymous Indigenous carver in the early 1970s. It is carved out of the stump of an old-growth Western Red Cedar, which in local Coast Salish culture is considered the “Tree of Life.” This tree is highly valued and revered because of a natural preservative in the cedar wood that slows decay, which makes it ideal for building longhouses, canoes, and many of the largest totem poles that stand today.

On my weekly trip to the God Head, I was continually awe-struck by this beautiful carving and piece of living art with mushrooms, bushes and lichen growing out of it. For me, it has become a powerful symbol of duality and how life is a balancing act between opposites. Growth and decay, life and death, light and dark.

As an example of living art, I find that the God Head symbolizes the interplay of matter and spirit, people and nature, reality and illusion.

What Is Animism?

To make more sense of my experiences visiting and contemplating the God Head, I would research on Google and one day down the Internet Rabbit Hole I stumbled upon Animism. It instantly struck me as a powerful way to build relationship with the living behind around us and my curiosity went wild.

Animism (from Latin anima, “breath, spirit, life”) is defined by Anthropologists as:

1. The attribution of a spirit to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
2. The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

Animism is an experience. It isn’t necessary a belief or a perspective. It is direct relationship with the space and beings around you.

At its core, all things have a Spirit. That all spirits are equal. There is no hierarchy. All spirits are connected. Within that connection all spirits can communicate.

The word spirit itself from Latin anima, which means to breathe. All living things we experience breathe and create electromagnetic fields that we can interact by developing our senses.

The Ancient History of Animism

Incredibly, we have been animists for most of human history.

What we call agricultural civilization with its strict hierarchies and organized religions with priesthoods started in the late Bronze Age less than 6,000 years ago. Yet, we have had the awareness to communicate with each other and use Stone Age tools as hunter-gatherers in the forests for nearly 2.6 million years.

While monotheistic cultures with written languages and large agricultural surpluses have ruthlessly colonized animistic cultures throughout history, today there is a growing reconciliation with indigenous ways of knowing and a revival in animism as we wake up to the grand scale of our planetary ecological crisis.

"The experience of animistic consciousness wipes away the Cartesian distinction of an independent, rational self surrounded by a mechanical, dead universe. Gone is the hardened dualism of self and other, opening us to a form of apprehension that pre-historian Jean Clottes described as fluid and permeable: “Fluidity means the categories that we have, man, woman, horse, tree, etc., can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of spirits.

“The world of spirit,” for me, isn’t limited to ghosts, holy or otherwise. It means the innate, unique sentience of all beings, now hidden from us by the blinders of our a priori world view. In this way, animistic perspective is the great equalizer: you cannot poison the Earth if you instinctively recognize it as the organic extension of your own body and mind—indeed, as your body and mind.”

― Robert Tindall M.

The Animistic Worldview

This 4-minute video does a good job of describing the Animistic worldview:

Active Participants In The Planetary Ecology

I believe that it is only in changing the way we see nature and our place in it that we will be able to solve our existential crisis.

When build a stronger connection with living beings around us and experience the air, water, fire and soil as sacred, we can reconnect the ancestral and evolutioary hertiage of the Planet that we have lost.

Fortunately, I see a new generation is rising. People of all ages today are using the globally-connected Internet and technological tools that empower self-organizing, grassroots movements to solve the global challenges of the 21st-century and bypass our centralized institutions that are rooted in vested interests oriented toward maintaining the status quo.

We have the opportunity today to usher in what could be the most important grassroot movement in human history to transform the social, political, economic and ecological balance of human civilization.

Animism challenges the Western scientific orientation toward dogmatic materialism that can allow for no purpose, meaning or possibility for sentience in natural forces because it can't be easily measured and objectified with our technological instruments.

It challenges us to shift our perception of who we think we are and develop practices to build deeper relationships with the other beings embedded with us in the web of life.



Animism Quotes

Some of the best quotes illuminating the experiential philosophy and worldview root in nature that is called Animism in Western Anthropology.

Animism is worth considering (a) because it exists, (b) because it addresses contemporary issues and debates, and (c) because it clarifies, in various ways, the argument that the project of modernity is ill-conceived and dangerously performed.

― Graham Harvey

The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are our biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity—then we will treat each one with greater respect. That is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.

― David Suzuki

Animism is not a belief but a worldview: The world is a sacred place and we are part of it. The factuality of this statement is not the issue. To say that the world is a sacred place is to make a statement about values, not facts. It's a statement about what you mean by "sacred," just as "money can't buy happiness" is a statement about what you mean by "happiness." To put it all very simply, Animism isn't a belief system, it's a value system.

― Daniel Quinn

“Animism is the way humanity has been deeply connected to the land and its seasonal cycles for millennia, in rapport and conversation with the animals, plants, elements, ancestors and earth spirits. The opposite of animism is the “cult of the individual” so celebrated in modern society, and the loss of the animist worldview is at the root of our spiritual disconnect and looming ecological crisis. Human beings are just one strand woven into the complex systems of Earth Community, and the animistic perspective is fundamental to the paradigm shift, and the recovery of our own ancestral wisdom.”

― Pegi Eyers

The distinction between life and lifeless is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are an immortal part of us.

― John Seed, Thinking Like a Mountain

"The elders were wise. They know that man's heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to a lack of respect for humans too."

― Chief Luther Standing Bear from the Lakota Sioux

"This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence, a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related."

― Plato, Timaeus

“The crisis is at root one of perception; we no longer see the cosmos as alive, nor do we any longer recognize that we are inseparable from the whole of nature, and from our earth as a living being. But there is hope, for as the crisis deepens, the call of anima mundi intensifies.”

― Stephan Harding

What you intend when you approach something in the world determines, to varying extents, the degree of sensory gating that occurs as you perceive that phenomenon. Intent, task demands, cognitive template, and gating defaults all affect what you sensorally perceive when a part of the exterior world and you meet. More colloquially, all of us see what we expect to see.”

― Stephen Harrod Buhner

“People think they understand things because they become familiar with them. This is only superficial knowledge. It is the knowledge of the astronomer who knows the names of the stars, the botanist who knows the classification of the leaves and flowers, the artist who knows the aesthetics of green and red. This is not to know nature itself- the earth and sky, green and red. Astronomer, botanist, and artist have done no more than grasp impressions and interpret them, each within the vault of his own mind. The more involved they become with the activity of the intellect, the more they set themselves apart and the more difficult it becomes to live naturally.”

― Masanobu Fukuoka

“Science is a dangerous gift unless it can be brought into contact with wisdom that resides in the sensual, intuitive and ethical aspects of our nature. For most non-Western cultures, nature is truly alive, and every entity within it is endowed with agency, intelligence and wisdom. This animistic perception is archetypal, ancient and primordial.

― Robert Riversong

Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.

― David Abram 

"Modern materialists and religious extremists alike lack the spiritual animistic reverence for non-human beings that every culture once understood as a given."

― Zeena Schreck

“Life is a planetary level phenomenon and the Earth has been alive for at least 3000 million years. To me the human move to take responsibility for the living Earth is laughable - the rhetoric of the powerless. The planet takes care of us, not we of it. Our self inflated moral imperative to guide a wayward Earth or heal a sick planet is evidence of our immense capacity for self-delusion. Rather, we need to protect us from ourselves.”

― Lynn Margolis

“James Hillman so eloquently put it, “It was only when science convinced us that nature was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.” A living, aware, and soul-filled world does not respond well to autopsy.”

― Stephen Harrod Buhner

"I was educated at Cambridge. How admirable is the Western method of submitting all theory to scrupulous experimental verification! That procedure has gone hand in hand with the gift for introspection which is my Eastern heritage. Together they have enabled me to sunder the silences of natural realms long uncommunicative. The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals."

― Jagadish Chandra Bose

“Reason flows from the blending of rational thought and feeling. If the two functions are torn apart, thinking deteriorates into schizoid intellectual activity and feeling deteriorates into neurotic life-damaging passions.”

― Erich Fromm

Technology is destructive only in the hands of people who do not realize that they are one and the same process as the universe.

― Alan Watts

“There is no environment "out there" that is separate from us. We can't manage our impact on the environment if we are our surroundings. Indigenous people are absolutely correct: we are born of the earth and constructed from the four sacred elements of earth, air, fire and water. (Hindus list these four and add a fifth element, space.)”

― David Suzuki

Life is not separate from death. It only looks that way.

— Blackfoot Proverb

The nomadic gatherer-hunters live in an entirely sacred world. Their spirituality reaches as far as all of their relations. They know the animals and plants that surround them and not only the ones of immediate importance. They speak with what we would call "inanimate objects," but they can speak the same language. They know how to see beyond themselves and are not limited to the human languages that we hold so dearly. Their existence is grounded in place, they wander freely, but they are always home, welcome and fearless.

― Kevin Tucker

“The apocalypse is not something which is coming. The apocalypse has arrived in major portions of the planet and it’s only because we live within a bubble of incredible privilege and social insulation that we still have the luxury of anticipating the apocalypse.”

― Terence Mckenna

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.

― Chief Seattle

You didn't come into this world.  You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.  You are not a stranger here.

― Alan Watts

One thing to remember is to talk to the animals. If you do, they will talk back to you. But if you don't talk to the animals, they won't talk back to you, then you won't understand, and when you don't understand you will fear, and when you fear you will destroy the animals, and if you destroy the animals, you will destroy yourself.

― Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God.

― George Washington Carver

"Illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against Nature. When enough sins have accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear."

― Hippocrates

“In the oldest religion, everything was alive, not supernaturally but naturally alive. There were only deeper and deeper streams of life, vibrations of life more and more vast. So rocks were alive, but a mountain had a deeper, vaster life than a rock, and it was much harder for a man to bring his spirit, or his energy, into contact with the life of a mountain, and so he drew strength from the mountain, as from a great standing well of life, than it was to come into contact with the rock. And he had to put forth a great religious effort. For the whole life-effort of man was to get his life into contact with the elemental life of the cosmos. mountain-life, cloud-life, thunder-life, air-life, earth-life, sun-life. To come into the immediate felt contact, and so derive energy, power, and a dark sort of joy. This effort into sheer naked contact, without an intermediary or mediator, is the root meaning of religion …”

― D.H. Lawrence

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

― Rumi

"The animistic perspective has a long and distinguished philosophical pedigree. For some eminent philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibniz, and more recently Alfred North Whitehead, it was inconceivable that sentience (subjective consciousness) could ever emerge or evolve from wholly insentient (objective, physical) matter, for to propose this would be to believe in a fundamental division or inconsistency within the very fabric of reality itself.

Therefore each of these philosophers considered matter to be intrinsically sentient. The new animism that they espoused simply recognizes that the material world around us has always been a dimension of sensation and feelings--albeit sensations that may be very different from our own--and that each entity must be treated with respect for its own kind of experience."

― Stephan Harding

If we are to survive, we must learn a new way to live, or relearn an old way. There have existed, and for the time being still exist, many cultures whose members refuse to cut the vocal cords of the planet, and refuse to enter into the deadening deal which we daily accept as part of living. It is perhaps significant that prior to contact with Western Civilization many of these cultures did not have rape, nor did they have child abuse.... wish that we could say the same. It is perhaps significant that members of these cultures listen attentively (as though their lives depend on it, which of course they do) to what plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and stars have to say, and that these cultures have been able to do what we can only dream of, which is to live in dynamic equilibrium with the rest of the world.

― Derrick Jenson, A Language Older Than Words

Once the idea of a supernaturalistic creation is fully overcome, the idea returns that the universe must be self-organizing and therefore composed of self-moving parts. Also, insofar as dualistic assumptions are fully overcome and human experience is accepted as fully natural, it begins to seem probable that something analogous to our experience and self-movement is a feature of every level of nature.

― David Ray Griffin

Children arrive animists. They learn about life, themselves, and empathy by imagining the liveliness of everything they come into contact with.

― S. Kelley Harrell

Animism is a monist metaphysical stance, based upon the idea that mind and matter are not distinct and separate substances but an integrated reality, rooted in nature.

― Emma Restall Orr 


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