Animism

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Animism (from Latin anima "soul, life")[1][2] has two main definitions. On one hand, "animism" can simply refer to the belief in souls.[3][4] However, the term is often used to refer to the belief that non-human entities have souls. This article discusses animism in the second sense.

Animism encompasses philosophical, religious, and/or spiritual beliefs that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, natural phenomena such as thunder, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment.[5] Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names or metaphors in mythology. Animism is particularly widely found in the religions of indigenous peoples,[6] although it is also found in Shinto, and some forms of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Pantheism, and Neopaganism.

Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants and people, however the currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".[6]

Whilst having similarities to totemism, animism differs in that it, according to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, focuses on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whilst totemism more typically holds that there is a primary source, such as the land itself, or the ancestors, who provide the basis to life. Certain indigenous religious groups, such as that of the Australian Aborigines are more typically totemic, whilst others, like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.[7]

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