The word Animism is derived from the Latin word Anima, meaning breath or soul. Animism itself is not a religion, but rather one of the oldest belief systems on the planet, with its origins dating as far back as the Paleolithic age. Animism pre-dates any form of organized religion and is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous people’s spirituality and supernatural perspectives in the world.
Animism is a belief that everything on the planet and even the planet itself has a spirit or soul. Everything from animals, plants, rivers, mountains, even the planet itself. Together they create a global community of living spirits, infinitely and eternally connected to a larger, universal spirit, all of which deserve respect.
To the Indigenous and tribal people of the earth, the animistic perspective is fundamental, mundane, and taken-for-granted. Most animistic indigenous people do not even have a word in their language that corresponds to “animism”. To them, it is simply a part of everyday life.
In Animism, a “spirit” is often a member of a multi-species community, perhaps including “rock spirits”, “tree spirits”, or the spirit of the Buffalo. Those who follow a practice of animism often claim to personally know the spirit of at least some rocks, animals, or plants. This is because they give and receive gifts, engage in conversations, or seem to act toward others intentionally
In many cultures, trees were regarded as maternal deities or forest spirits, to be respected even when their lives were sacrificed for human use. For example, Pagan woodcutters never felled a tree without first begging for forgiveness. Today, the idea of female tree spirits live on in myth and folklore as dryads, the Greek nymph inhabiting the forests.
Humans too are spirits, because we act in the same way. To respect other spirits does not necessarily mean liking them. It simply means acknowledging that they also have rights and personal interests. In Animism, it is believed that spirits can, in fact, be killed, but it can only happen when necessary and always with a great deal of compassion.
Animist religions often feature shamans; experts in resolving interspecies misunderstandings. Such as when humans insult hunted animals, knowing the whereabouts of others such as distant food species, or combating aggressors, like a disease. Their work often involves dramatic trance rituals. Generally, animism is expressed in simple gift-giving to other persons, as when native Americans offer tobacco or sage to elders or sacred beings.
As a belief system evolving alongside human culture, today it is present in a number of religions, such as Shinto and Voodoo. A core mantra of Animism is “It’s not just humans who have feelings. Animals, plants, and rocks do too, and they all deserve respect.