An Animist's Worldview

Animism is the first or original belief system – religion if you will – of all humans and the established method of viewing the external world every culture on Earth used up until a few thousand years ago.

“Animism is the act of living in the world alongside a multi-species community of living persons, not all of them human, but all of whom deserve respect.” -Graham Harvey

The term animism derives from the word animismus, coined by the German scientist Georg Ernst Stahl in the 18th century. He used it to refer to the belief that an immaterial soul produces life. Although his doctrine was mainly limited to animals, later discoveries recognized that ancient animist beliefs included a soul's presence in all living things beyond the human, contributing to the modern interpretation of animism today. Animism is the belief that everything manifested, both seen and unseen, is infused with a conscious life force. Our pre-Christian tribal ancestors were deeply animist in their views.

The root of animist philosophy advocates treating other physical beings in the world as if they were conscious beings worthy of recognition and respect. Today you can see this philosophy expressed in ideas such as Gaia theory, tribal heathenry, and authors like Graham Harvey and David Abram. These ideas manifest themselves as green living, eco-psychology, conservationism, sustainability, and ecological activism.

As a belief system, animism takes the spiritual and personal relationship approach and focuses on all living things as spiritual beings. The animist beliefs of native traditions are a good example, such as Native American, Australian Aboriginal, and some African traditions.

In today's world, the animist mindset has been partially adopted by non-indigenous people because, in many cases, settlers wiped out native traditions. Examples of this are Germanic and Celtic reconstructionist traditions and many other reconstructed neopagan beliefs. Traditions that adopt some form of animism usually emphasize a personal relationship with spirits and respect for the environment. Faery traditions are an example as well.

As a modern advocate of animist beliefs, I practice a hybrid tradition that encompasses both animism as a philosophy and a belief system. I focus on relationships with the local biome, incorporating sustainability and ecology in my local environment. My focus extends to wherever I happen to be at the moment, so in reality, it becomes a global focus on green living, and the recognition and preservation of all living things in the context nature allows. When I am at home, I try and keep up my house, property, and the living things residing on it sustainably, causing no unnecessary harm. When I'm out bushcrafting, I don't cut down trees to build a shelter. There are plenty of fallen trees and branches suitable for construction. Old leaves and forest floor moss make an excellent roof. When I leave, whatever materials I'm using are respectfully returned to the Earth. I spread the leaves across the forest, place the moss on the ground so it can continue to grow, and leave no trace that I was ever there. I do this out of respect for the spirits and ancestors that inhabit the region.

Animism is a world-affirming belief system. Gods are not real. The spirits of the land, sea, and sky are real. I believe modern gods are human-made constructs that originated from nature spirits and tribal ancestors. In early cultures that were primarily animist, certain spirits and ancestors became particularly important to local tribes. As those tribes evolved and migrated, they took the spirits and elevated them over time to god-like status, probably once realizing that imposing a particular set of rules and morals defined by these gods (but in reality, the elites) had the power to control the people. Once world-denying views like the concept of an afterlife somewhere other than the physical realm were introduced (yet another trick to control people), the elites obliterated most traces of these spirits and ancestors' origins. Consequently, the environment began to suffer, as well.

Unfortunately, reconstructionist and neopagan movements have not panned out how I hoped and fell into the same trap. They have not gone far enough to reclaim our original belief system, one that I'm convinced is a critical element in healing our damaged symbiotic relationship with this planet. To a certain degree, neopagan beliefs are nothing more than an extension of monotheistic world-denying views by recognizing and seeking a spiritual realm elsewhere. This mindset creates unhealthy side effects, such as worshipping gods as if they are our servants to which we can make demands. It also encourages people to see the physical realm as less valuable, and I believe it is one reason we treat our planet so poorly. By understanding animism and adapting its principles, we can start gaining world-affirming views and completely change our mindset. However, time is running out.

We know from science that our bodies have an ecosystem living on them, much like the plants and animals that live on the planet. This ecosystem contains bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even mites. They help protect our bodies from foreign organisms that can harm us, and we, in return, provide them with a healthy environment where they can thrive. Mutual respect. Symbiosis 101. However, when they stop doing their job (for whatever reason), we contract an illness. The planet is no different. We are part of that ecosystem, and we have stopped doing our job.

Do you think global warming is human-made? What does your body do when its ecosystem stops doing its job and you get an infection? You first get a fever to attempt to stave off the illness. Our planet has a fever because we are no longer part of the ecosystem. We are the infection. We didn't create global warming. We caused an infection. Global warming is the planet's attempt to get healthy.

The planet has fired several warning shots in our direction, and we are either too selfish, stupid, or both to recognize them. Unless we wake up and reestablish healthy reciprocity with this planet, it is entirely within the planet's right to eliminate the threat. Don't be surprised if the planet's fever reaches epic proportions.

To change the world, we must change our thinking. Governments are ill-equipped to help us and if you don't believe me, look at how little they have done in the past seventy years. It's not like we are just discovering the impact of our actions on the Earth. Science can't help us because while science is great at inventing things, they are not so great at making them accessible or affordable. Solar power is a great example. Eliminate fossil fuels tomorrow, and you'll see a class divide wider than any other in the history of humankind. Science and politics do not mix, they never have and they never will. We are on our own.

Adopting an animist worldview is an essential step, in my opinion. Again, we have to change our thinking. After that, we can go about reclaiming our place in the planet's ecosystem. Until then, we are nothing more than a parasite.