Animism is the belief that all things each have their own spirit. Every tree, every rock, every animal, every object in nature has its own spirit. Additionally, there is an over-arcing spirit form of these spirits: the Spirit of Tree or of Eagle or of Wolf, for example. Mankind is included in this, of course, with each individual possessing a spirit with humanity’s own archetypal spirit. All spirits are woven together and are part of a world spirit. In this a single spirit can be thought of like a finger on your hand: while a separate, identifiable element of the body, the finger is simply part of the whole. Separate the finger from the whole and it no longer functions: separate an individual spirit from the whole and it continues to exist, but it is no longer working as part of the whole – it is isolated and alone and will eventually become disruptive to the whole, become diseased or die. Think of it like a cancerous organ in the body.
What we consider shamanism today falls into the Animism belief structure. For the most part an Animistic spirit is neutral toward us and other spirits. (Your fingers don’t often argue between themselves.) They were called on to help and educate those who could communicate with them. Help included: providing the attributes of the object or animal; locating game and food or medicinal plants; providing safe crossings of rivers and protection from harm. They could teach about this world, about the worlds of spirits, and the attributes of elements in the environment. Those who are adept can ride with a spirit and see through the eyes of its physical host – a wolf or eagle, fish or even a plant or rock. Today we call them shaman.
Animistic spirits are natural spirits: Once something is shaped by humans, such as wood furniture or stones stacked to form a house or wall, it no longer holds one of these. As such, they are more likely found in sparsely inhabited regions. If, however, you do encounter one, it will most likely be in a dream or when you are relaxed – usually outside. The best thing to do is talk to it. If the spirit is taking the time to try communicating with you, it probably wants to tell you something. Ignore it and it will get persistent and, eventually, it might get down-right angry.
The important thing to keep in mind is that Animism puts all of nature on equal footing. As part of the whole, humanity is no greater nor lesser than any other part of the world. Any spirit would expect to be treated with respect, but not necessarily deference; a Great Form would be a different story, but unless you are truly in tune with nature this isn’t likely to happen. Remember, hunter-gatherers would thank the spirit of an animal killed during a hunt for providing for the tribe. My advice is: Be polite.
Look for clues to identifying an Animistic spirit in the way it appears. Animal spirits are the most obvious; spirits of things we think inanimate, such as rocks, are a bit tougher. These spirits, with a couple of exceptions, do not resort to trickery or deception, they are pretty much how they appear. Spirits like Coyote or fox are considered tricksters and you need to consider what they tell you carefully. Both, however, are also very clever and can help solve problems as long as you watch out for the tricky bits. Crow and other members of the raven family of spirits collect things – shiny things in particular: they aren’t thieves really, just collectors of what is lying around… But they might help you find your missing cars keys.
More pages to this blog coming soon, so check back with us.