What is Animism?

What is Animism?

July 1, 2021 Off By Felso

The answer to the question of what is animism or what is animism can be given as follows: Animism is the belief that all animate and inanimate nature has spirits and is governed by spirits. Animism or animism, in other words, is a primitive form of religious belief that accepts the existence of other spirits in nature as in humans.

According to this belief, all beings in the universe, living things such as plants and animals, the seas and the skies, and even natural events such as rain and lightning, each have souls that have a mysterious effect.

The word animism was coined by the English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1837-1917) in his work “Primitive Culture”. Tylor, with this phrase derived from the Latin word anima, which means soul, the primitives’ animals, plants, trees, stones, soil, etc. He expresses the assumption that they regard all natural objects and signs as spirited. On the other hand, it has been translated into our language with the term “spiritualism” other than the term animism.

According to the understanding of animism, every being has a soul.

According to this theory, which has lost its validity in today’s anthropology and ethnology, the idea of ​​soul or spirit arose from the mixing of sleep and waking states. He equates what he sees in primitive sleep with what he perceives while awake. For example, if he ate something in his dream, he believes that he has actually eaten it when he wakes up. Similarly, their wanderings in the dream have given birth to the idea of ​​a spirit wandering out of the body in the primitive.

This second being, the soul being, assumed in man, is so fluid and soft that it cannot be compared to the body. Because it can easily come out and enter through body holes such as mouth and nose.

It has been determined that the primitives believed that the effect on the body also affected the soul. For example, Australian primitives cut off their right hands after killing their enemies, believing that they prevented their spirits from shooting arrows.

According to Tylor, the attainment of the soul thought is not only dreams but also febrile illness, ecstasy, insanity, unconsciousness, stroke, catalepsy, etc. It may also have provided psycho-physiological phenomena such as

The English philosopher Spencer, who agreed with this assumption of Tylor, also put forward the witch theory in the way of the idea of ​​the soul. According to Tylor and Spencer, the souls, who left the body completely after the death of man, began to wander among people independently, according to the primitive belief. They weren’t content with wandering around, they went in and out of the bodies of living people, that’s why these spirits are the cause of all the good and bad things that happen to living people.

Tylor and Spencer attribute the formation of religious thought to this belief. Because people started to pray and make sacrifices to these spirits in order to be protected from evil and gain goodness. Prayer, sacrifice and dedication are the basic elements of religion.

When the soul (La. Animia) got rid of the body, it turned into the spirit (La. Spiritus) and gradually became an idol and a god. Since it is death that transforms the soul into spirit, the first religious beliefs were realized in the ancestors’ souls. The first sacrifice was sacrificed in the graves where the death place was and ancestors were worshiped. These spirits or spirits can enter living people as well as stone, soil, tree, plant; it means that everything is alive, in other words, it has a soul.

Thus began the worship of nature after the worship of the ancestors (Tylor, La Civilization Primitive, vol. 1, pp. 326-555)

At this point, Spencer separated from Tylor and argued that even animals can distinguish between living and non-living humans, no matter how primitive they are. According to Spencer, the formation of polytheism is not because primitives thought all inanimate things were alive, but because they mixed metaphors with reality.

For example, the primitive who names a star a bull begins to think that the star is really a bull, or the primitive oak tree, which calls itself an oak tree, thinks it is himself. Animal, plant, object, etc. from the ancestor worship. because of this mixing (Spencer, Principes de Sociologie, vol. 1, p. 184)

Apart from this assumption, the term animism names the teachings in metaphysics that assume that the soul is also the principle of organic life. Stahl, Ravaisson, Bouiller etc. thinkers like these are vitalists in this sense. In child psychology, the period when the child thinks all the objects around him are alive is called animism.


According to primitive people, the soul or spirit belongs to the body, some parts of the body; According to the natives of Australia, it is closely related to the fat layer in the kidneys. In any case, the soul can leave it for a time without the body dying. In this case, it will have an effect on the body as if it were inside the body, even from afar. It is possible to shape this in a narrative like this:

A Cherokee Indian chief placed his life in a tree during a war. The enemy was constantly shooting arrows at him, but the chief was neither killed nor injured. But his opponent, understanding this spell cast in battle, fired arrows into the branches. Thereupon, the chief of the tribe fell and died.

According to primitive man, personality is part of his personality’s environment.