Animism, a belief system that predates the world's major religions, stems from man's basic desire to apply his attributes to the things that surround him, both living and inanimate objects. Examples of belief systems that incorporate animist elements include Wicca, Voodoo and traditional Native American religions. Although each animist belief system varies in specific philosophies and practices, some common beliefs unite them.
Anthropomorphism and personification lie at the heart of animism. Followers endow animals, plants and even inanimate objects – typically natural objects, such as mountains, bodies of water and celestial bodies – with human qualities such as desire, consciousness and personality.
Animism focuses on the metaphysical universe, with specific focus on the concept of the immaterial soul. Personified objects are believed to have souls or spirits. In some animistic belief systems, these souls manifest in the form of deities or even ghosts, sprites or demons. In some animist religions, followers worship spirit figures, typically in a polytheistic fashion, or a system with multiple gods as opposed to one omnipotent god. Animists philosophies generally promote unity between the living and spirit worlds.
In life, animists seek to appease the spirit world. In death, practitioners typically believe that a person's soul joins the spirit world. As is the case with many world religions, upstanding behavior and worship in the physical world is often thought to positively affect the spiritual afterlife. Although views on afterlife vary, animists usually believe in the possibility of contacting the spirits of the departed. As a sign of respect to the dead, many animists practice ancestor worship.
Animist belief systems rarely rely on religious written texts, and spiritual ceremonies often include chants, dances, healing practices and trances. Outside of the religious world, a 1987 study published by the journal “Child Development,” reports that researchers Inagaki and Hatano theorize that animistic beliefs, chiefly the habit of personification, result from a sort of built-in adaptive nature. By personifying objects and animals, people are able to create an analogy between their experience and the behaviors of unfamiliar things. In this sense, the term animism may simply refer to the human tendency to personify inanimate objects.
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