Animism – Concept, beliefs, death and what it is in philosophy

We explain what animism is, why it is not a religion, its beliefs and how it conceives death. Also, animism in philosophy.

Animism varies immensely depending on each people and each culture.

What is animism?

Animism (from the Latin anima, “soul”) is a heterogeneous set of religious beliefs They have in common the idea that all things in the real world, from animals, plants and human beings, to inanimate objects and landscapes, have a soul life. That is to say, holds that nature is populated by intelligent spirits or awakened mystical consciences.

Animism is a fundamental feature of ancestral cultures or primitive peoples, which reflects their close imaginary link with the world: it is a gaze that recognizes around the recognizable presence of voices, intelligences and desires, which establish a dialogue with humanity. of some kind. Because is considered the founding germ of religions.

However, animism does not consist of a unified body of beliefs, but varies immensely depending on each people and each culture. That is why it cannot be considered totally as a religion, at least in the same sense that modern religions do.

Aboriginal peoples do not even have a name for animism, since this concept is a later construction, the fruit of 19th century anthropology, and attributed to Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917).

Main beliefs of animism

As we have said, animism does not present a uniform and homogeneous body of beliefs, nor is it a unified religion. On the contrary, we speak of religious or mystical forms whose only point in common is the attribution of animate or consciousness traits to both non-human living beings and inanimate objects: animists “dialogue” with plants and animals, as well as with rivers, stones, mountains or the moon.

That is to say, the gaze of animism finds, wherever it looks, a spirit or a soul from the natural world. That is why it proposes rites and rituals through which to ask permission, ask for forgiveness or fulfill the desire of the souls.

Death in animism

For most animistic belief systems, death represents the transition towards a lasting existence of the spirit, either in the land itself or in an afterlife of abundance.

In some cases, the former involves reincarnation in a specific animal or plant, in which the human soul can endure and be in contact with loved ones. In other cases, specific funeral rites are required, by a shaman or priest, to guide the spirit to its proper whereabouts.

Animism in philosophy

In the history of philosophy, the term “animism” has been used to refer to very different systems of thought, which have nothing to do with the mystical or religious animism that we have described here. For instance, it was used to refer to the Aristotelian view of the human soul and body, defended by the philosophical schools of the Stoics and the Scholastics.

It has also been proposed, together with the term vitalism, as a name for medical doctrine in the 18th century by the German Georg Ernst Stahl (1659-1734), according to which the soul was the foundation and the root of any state of health or of disease that manifests itself in the body.