Animism (from Latin: anima, 'breath, spirit, life')[1][2] is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence.[3][4][5][6] Potentially, animism perceives all things — animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words — as animated and alive. Animism is used in the anthropology of religion, as a term for the belief system of many Indigenous peoples,[7] especially in contrast to the relatively more recent development of organized religions.[8] Animism focuses on the metaphysical universe, with specific focus on the concept of the immaterial soul.[9]

Although each culture has their own mythologies and rituals, animism is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples' "spiritual" or "supernatural" perspectives. The animistic perspective is so widely held and inherent to most indigenous peoples, that they often do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion");[10] the term is an anthropological construct.

Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinions differ on whether animism refers to an ancestral mode of experience common to indigenous peoples around the world, or to a full-fledged religion in its own right. The currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the late 19th century (1871) by Sir Edward Tylor. It is "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".[11]

Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no categorical distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that soul, spirit, or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment: water sprites, vegetation deities, tree spirits, etc. Animism may further attribute a life force to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan, and many contemporary Pagans).[12]

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