The Literary Influence 9: Animism

Pagans are more known for their ‘live in a field’ aspect than that of ‘live in a library’, but camping out amongst the shelves may just find you a gem or two which has influenced pagan critical thinking about how we see the world around us, and how we view the past.

The concept of ‘animism’ is central to many of the world’s ancient nature religions. Before there was God, there were gods – deities whose will, actions or even mere existence controlled and regulated the phenomena of the natural world, the interactions of human societies and the behaviour of humans at an individual level. In classical-era religions, each god had dominion over a particular realm: one controlled the sea; another the trees; yet another the fields and the crops. In human affairs, one had responsibility for love, beauty and sex; another for war, courage and honour; a third for art, music and poetry.

But even these many gods were developments on earlier ideas of animism: the idea that everything in the world – plants, trees, rivers, waterfalls, stones and mountains – was possessed of a spirit or soul. Paid due regard, these spirits would together provide humans with a world of abundance and kindness. Ignored, or worse, insulted, these spirits would turn their backs and leave us in a world of hardship and suffering.

It would be impossible to identify an originator for animistic belief, since such religious models reach back far into prehistory. However, while animism is old beyond measure, it shows no signs of fading away. Shinto, the major religion of Japan, is arguably an animistic tradition, with a central belief in kami, spirits associated with objects and places and around whose proper tribute a great deal of Shinto ritual and tradition revolves.

Many American Indian religious traditions are animistic, with a deep reverence for the spirits of the natural world, while modern Pagan beliefs profess a varying recognition of such spirits, with some paths, such as modern Druidry, emphasising them strongly.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on Animism HERE.

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