The beliefs and practices of animism are as diverse as the groups that practice it. The defining concept that unifies animism is the veneration of the soul and the spirit world. Animistic practices are based on mollifying a spiritual element in order to achieve a desired effect.

The Soul:

The word animism comes from the Latin word ‘anima,’ meaning ‘soul’ or ‘breath.’

Animism is based on the belief that there is a spiritual realm of which humans are only a small part. Everything possesses a soul that is distinct and even independent of its physical form. Typically, animistic societies form an intricate mythology to explain things such as the nature of life, death, pain, fear and the elements.
The Spirit World:

Animistic belief in the soul is not confined to the human soul, but is transferred onto objects in nature that are seen to control or at least influence the natural operation of the world around them. Animists believe that the spirit world has significant power and that spirits will dwell in anything. Many things in nature are believed to have a distinct spiritual role to either help or hurt.

Spirits can also be unconnected to any physical form. These tend to be the more ominous spirits of the animistic belief, haunting tombs or playing tricks on the unsuspecting.

These spirits are also much harder to influence, so animists turn to magic to help pacify them.

Some animists believe that it is possible to communicate with spirits and that the spirits are mediators between humans and gods. Contact with the spirits is deemed very important. Animists turn to the spirits during times of trouble and seek help for various reasons. Typically, only certain people in the tribe or village can make contact with the spirits. Contact is made through ritual practices and usually involves a medium such as a shaman.

Animist Symbols:

  • Taveez – amulet worn as protection from evil
  • Kohl – dark rings placed around babies’ eyes to ward off the evil eye