What does Animism mean?

Animism means choosing to see the personhood and kinship in all things.

I use the word Animism a lot, so it makes sense to clarify the meaning it carries for me. Though originally coined by Christian anthropologists to describe the ‘nature worshipping’ behavior of indigenous peoples (with the further common clueless addition ‘they believe everything – animals, rocks, sky – has a ‘soul”), a community of thinkers, authors, activists, scientists, artists and philosophers (including myself) have embraced it and invested it with deeper meaning.

Animism, essentially, means acknowledging the personhood and kinship of all Life, human, non-human, animate and ‘inanimate’. In the words of the Lakota, Mitakuye Oyasin, “We Are All Related”.

Personhood, therefore, means person-ing, the behavior, feelings, and values of a person. All people value the sanctity of their borders. All people want appreciation and respect.

Kinship indicates the inescapable interrelatedness of all things. Where does breath end, and the body begin? Where does stone end, and my body begin? Does the fire in all the cells of my body, differ from the sun that put that fire here to burn? An interdependence of Personhood means nothing else but Family. This means breath, stone, fire, all people and my kin.

Animism essentially means animating, a way of relating to the world that fully experiences and acknowledges the personhood and kinship of all things. This has nothing to do with belief; this has to do with attitude. I don’t have to ‘believe’ something ‘is’ [sic] a person, I only need treat that other as I would treat a person, and then I watch what happens. You animate by making a choice; the term animist simply indicates a person who often makes this choice.

We became beautiful, successful, grieving and praising human beings, by seeing the world this way. We didn’t get confused for a couple million years, only now to figure out that in fact the world ‘was’ [sic] dead after all. The community of life selected us to survive, helped us, cooperated with us, over and over, because of how we saw the world. Because of how we treated the world.

Now we have a choice. The community of life has received great injury from how the culture of modern civilization has seen it. Even now this living community makes natural selections that determine our fate. Perhaps, from a perspective of enlightened self-interest, we can choose to appreciate and respect the personhood and kinship in all things once more?

It saddens me that modern humans would need a metaphorical gun pointed at their head, in order to offer the basic courtesy of a relationship founded on acknowledging the other’s personhood. I actually hope that if you do choose Animism, if you do choose to treat the living world in a beautiful, grieving, and praising way, you do it not from fear, but from a love of Beauty.

It only takes a choice.

Written by Willem