Spirit Animal
Dogs, seeing some spirit animals.


The spirit or ghost of a familiar that has no physical form, only spiritual. also known as power animal or familiar spirit animal

Powers & Abilities:

(as ghost form)




See Familiar

Elemental Connection:


A spirit animal, or Power Animal is the ghost or soul of a familiar, which exists astrally, and is not brought into physical form, only in spiritual form.

Power animal/Spirit, is a broadly animistic and shamanic concept that has entered the English language from Anthropology, Ethnography and Sociology. A tutelary spirit guides, helps or protects individuals, lineages and nations. In the shamanic worldview, everything is alive, bearing an inherent virtue, power and wisdom. Power animal(s) represent a person's connection to all life, their qualities of character, and their power.

Power animals are endemic to shamanic practice in both Eurasia and the Americas. They are the helping or ministering spirit or familiar which empowers individuals and is essential for success in any venture undertaken.

In the shamanic worldview, everyone has power animals or tutelary spirits which empower and protect them from harm, like guardian spirits or angels in the Abrahamic Traditions. The power animal may also lend its ward or charge the wisdom or attributes of its kind. For example, a hawk power animal provides hawk attributes, such as hawk-eye.

In tribal shamanism and also in spiritualism it is believed that astral travelling is done in a special "body" or "form" which is able to travel out of the physical body and go around the world, spying out the land. The astral form is often believed to be that of an animal. This sort of belief is very ancient and is recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics.[citation needed] In Western witchcraft and folklore, the village witch has his or her "familiar", an animal with which they live that commonly helps with different sorts of magic (be it by guarding, helping, or so on). Echoes of this can be found in popular culture such as the Harry Potter series.


[1][2]Sir Edward Tylor was responsible for forming the definition of animism currently accepted in anthropology.The term animism appears to have been first developed as animismus by the German scientist Georg Ernst Stahl circa 1720, to refer to the "doctrine that animal life is produced by an immaterial soul". The actual English language form of animism however can only be attested to 1819.[6] The term was taken and redefined by the anthropologist Sir Edward Tylor in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, in which he defined it as being "the general doctrine of souls and other spiritual beings in general," which includes "an idea of pervading life and will in nature."[7]

Under Tylor's definition therefore, animists viewed the natural world as being innately alive. Being a self-described "confirmed scientific rationalist", he himself however believed that such a view was "childish" and typical of "cognitive underdevelopment",[8] and that it was therefore common in "primitive" peoples such as those living in hunter gatherer societies.

Tylor's definition has largely been followed by anthropologists since, such as Émile Durkheim, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Tim Ingold. However some anthropologists, such as Nurit Bird-David have criticised the Tylorian concept of animism, believing it to be outdated.[9]

[edit] MotivationEdit

Further information: anthropology of religion and psychology of religionAnimism in the widest sense, i.e. thinking of objects as animate, and treating them as if they were animate, is near-universal. Jean Piaget applied the term in child psychology in reference to an implicit understanding of the world in a child's mind which assumes all events are the product of intention or consciousness. Piaget explains this with a cognitive inability to distinguish the external world from one's own psyche. Developmental psychology has since established that the distinction of animate vs. inanimate things is an abstraction acquired by learning.

The justification for attributing life to objects was stated by David Hume in his Natural History of Religion (Section III): "There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious."[10]

Psychoanalysist Sigmund Freud thought that "primitive men" came up with the animistic system by observing the phenomena of sleep (including dreams) and of death which so much resembles it, and by attempting to explain those states. Freud regarded it as perfectly natural for man to react to the phenomena which aroused his speculations by forming the idea of the soul and then extending it to objects in the external world.[11][page needed]

Lists of phenomena from the contemplation of which "the savage" was led to believe in animism have been given by Sir E. B. Tylor, Herbert Spencer, Andrew Lang and others; an animated controversy arose between the former as to the priority of their respective lists.[citation needed] Among these phenomena are trance states, dreams and hallucinations.

[edit] Animism and religionEdit

Animism is a belief held in many religions around the world, and is not, as some have purported, a type of religion in itself. It is a belief, such as shamanism, polytheism or monotheism, that is found in several religions.

[edit] Origin of religionEdit

Some theories have been put forward that the anthropocentric belief in animism among early humans was the basis for the later evolution of religions. In one such theory, put forward by Sir E. B. Tylor, early humans initially, through mere observation, recognized what might be called a soul, life-force, spirit, breath or animus within themselves; that which was present in the body in life and absent in death. These early humans equated this soul with figures which would appear in dreams and visions. These early human cultures later interpreted these spirits to be present in animals, the living plant world, and even in inanimate natural objects (known as Fetishism) in a form of animism. Eventually, these early humans grew to believe that the spirits were invested and interested in human life, and performed rituals to propitiate them. These rituals and beliefs eventually evolved over time into the vast array of “developed” religions. According to Tylor, the more scientifically advanced the society, the less that society believed in Animism. However, any remnant ideologies of souls or spirits, to Tylor, represented “survivals” of the original animism of early humanity.

[edit] World viewEdit

In many animistic world views found in hunter-gatherer cultures, the human being is often regarded as on a roughly equal footing with other animals, plants, and natural forces.[12][page needed] Therefore, it is morally imperative to treat these agents with respect. In this world view, humans are considered a part of nature, rather than superior to, or separate from it. In such societies, ritual is considered essential for survival, as it wins the favor of the spirits of one's source of food, shelter, and fertility and wards off malevolent spirits. In more elaborate animistic religions, such as Shinto, there is a greater sense of a special character to humans that sets them apart from the general run of animals and objects, while retaining the necessity of ritual to ensure good luck, favorable harvests, and so on. [3][4]Urarina shaman, 1988===[edit] Death=== Most animistic belief systems hold that the spirit survives physical death. In some systems[which?], the spirit is believed to pass to an easier world of abundant game or ever-ripe crops, while in other systems, the spirit remains on earth as a ghost, often malignant. Still other systems combine these two beliefs, holding that the soul must journey to the spirit world without becoming lost and thus wandering as a ghost (e.g., the Navajo religion). Funeral, mourning rituals, and ancestor worship performed by those surviving the deceased are often considered necessary for the successful completion of this journey.

From the belief in the survival of the dead arose the practice of offering food, lighting fires, etc., at the grave, at first, maybe, as an act of friendship or filial piety, later as an act of ancestor worship. The simple offering of food or shedding of blood at the grave develops into an elaborate system of sacrifice. Even where ancestor worship is not found, the desire to provide the dead with comforts in the future life may lead to the sacrifice of wives, slaves, animals, and so on, to the breaking or burning of objects at the grave or to the provision of the ferryman's toll: a coin put in the mouth of the corpse to pay the traveling expenses of the soul.

But all is not finished with the passage of the soul to the land of the dead. The soul may return to avenge its death by helping to discover the murderer, or to wreak vengeance for itself. There is a widespread belief that those who die a violent death become malignant spirits and endanger the lives of those who come near the haunted spot. In Malay folklore, the woman who dies in childbirth becomes a pontianak, a vampire-like spirit who threatens the life of human beings. People resort to magical or religious means of repelling spiritual dangers from such malignant spirits.

It is not surprising to find that many peoples respect and even worship animals (see totem or animal worship), often regarding them as relatives. It is clear that widespread respect was paid to animals as the abode of dead ancestors, and much of the cults to dangerous animals is traceable to this principle; though there is no need to attribute an animistic origin to it.[13]

The practice of head shrinking among Jivaroan and Urarina peoples derives from an animistic belief that if the spirit of one's mortal enemies, i.e. the nemesis of ones being, are not trapped within the head, they can escape slain bodies. After the spirit transmigrates to another body, they can take the form of a predatory animal and even exact revenge.

[edit] MythologyEdit

A large part of mythology is based upon a belief in souls and spirits — that is, upon animism in its more general sense. Urarina myths that portray plants, inanimate objects, and non-human animals as personal beings are examples of animism in its more restrictive sense.[14]

However, many mythologies focus largely on corporeal beings rather than "spiritual" ones; the latter may even be entirely absent. Stories of transformation, deluge and doom myths, and myths of the origin of death do not necessarily have any animistic basis.

As mythology began to include more numerous and complex ideas about a future life and purely spiritual beings, the overlap between mythology and animism widened. However, a rich mythology does not necessarily depend on a belief in many spiritual beings.

[edit] PhilosophyEdit

The term "animism" has been applied to many different philosophical systems. It is used to describe Aristotle's view of the relation of soul and body held also by the Stoics and Scholastics. On the other hand monadology (Leibniz) has also been termed animistic. The name is most commonly applied to vitalism, a view mainly associated with Georg Ernst Stahl and revived by Francisque Bouillier (1813–1899), which makes life, or life and mind, the directive principle in evolution and growth, holding that all cannot be traced back to chemical and mechanical processes, but that there is a directive force which guides energy without altering its amount. An entirely different class of ideas, also termed animistic, is the belief in the world soul (anima mundi), held by Plato, Schelling and others.

[edit] Distinction from PantheismEdit

Animism is not the same as Pantheism, although the two are sometimes confused. Some faiths and religions are even both pantheistic and animistic. One of the main differences is that while animists believe everything to be spiritual in nature, they do not necessarily see the spiritual nature of everything in existence as being united (monism), the way pantheists do. As a result, animism puts more emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual soul. In Pantheism, everything shares the same spiritual essence, rather than having distinct spirits and/or souls.

[edit] Contemporary animist traditionsEdit

Further information: Folk religion and Shamanism*African traditional religions, a group of beliefs in various spirits of nature, are not commonly described as animistic, yet this fact has for many years been disputed by leading cultural anthropologists.[who?]

  • In the Canary Islands (Spain), aboriginal Guanches professed an animistic religion.[citation needed]
  • Shinto, the traditional religion of Japan, is highly animistic. In Shinto, spirits of nature, or kami, are believed to exist everywhere, from the major (such as the goddess of the sun), which can be considered polytheistic, to the minor, which are more likely to be seen as a form of animism.
  • There are some Hindu groups which may be considered animist. The coastal Karnataka has a different tradition of praying to spirits. See also Folk Hinduism
  • Many traditional Native American religions are fundamentally animistic. See, for example, the Lakota Sioux prayer Mitakuye Oyasin. The Haudenausaunee Thanksgiving Address, which can take an hour to recite, directs thanks towards every being - plant, animal and other.
  • The New Age movement commonly purports animism in the form of the existence of nature spirits and fairies.
  • Modern Neopagans, especially Eco-Pagans,[15][page needed] sometimes like to describe themselves as animists, meaning that they respect the diverse community of living beings and spirits with whom humans share the world/cosmos.[16][page needed] Some Wiccans may use the term animist to refer to the idea that a Mother Goddess and Horned God consist of everything that exists.[17][page needed][dubiousdiscuss]

[edit] See alsoEdit

[5] Philosophy portal
[6] Mythology portal
[7] Religion portal
[8] Spirituality portal


[edit] NotesEdit

  1. ^ Segal, p. 14
  2. ^ "Animism", The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, p. 72
  3. ^ "The concept that humans possess souls and that souls have life apart from human bodies before and after death are central to animism, along with the ideas that animals, plants, and celestial bodies have spirits" (Wenner)
  4. ^ a b Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40. Page S67
  5. ^ Ingold, Tim. (2000). Totemism, Animism and the Depiction of Animals in The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge. Page 112-113
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas. (2001).
  7. ^ Tylor, E.B. Primitive Culture. London: John Murray, 1871. pp. 21, 260.
  8. ^ Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40. Page S67-68
  9. ^ Bird-David, Nurit. (1999). "Animism" Revisited: Personhood, Environment and Relational Epistemology in Current Anthropology Volume 40.
  10. ^ The Natural History of Religion. D. Hume. p. xix
  11. ^ Freud, p. ??
  12. ^ Fernandez-Armesto, p. 138
  13. ^ "Animism", Encyclopedia Britannica
  14. ^ Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [1]
  15. ^ Adler, p. ??
  16. ^ Higginbotham, p. ??
  17. ^ Cunningham, p. ??

[edit] ReferencesEdit

  • Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. Penguin, 2006.
  • "Animism". Encyclopædia Britannica. 11th ed. Vol. 2. 1911. Online Encyclopedia. JRank. 10 July 2008 <>.
  • "Animism". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
  • "Animism". The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2001-07. Inc. 10 July 2008 <>.
  • Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Ballantine Books, 1994.
  • Cunningham, Scott. Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. Llewellyn, 2002.
  • Dean, Bartholomew 2009 Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-081303378 [2]
  • Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Ideas that Changed the World. Dorling Kindersley, 2003.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1950). Totem and Taboo:Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. trans. Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-00143-1.
  • Higginbotham, Joyce. Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions. Llewellyn, 2002.
  • Segal, Robert. Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Wenner, Sara. "Basic Beliefs of Animism". Emuseum. 2001. Minnesota State University. 10 July 2008 <>.

[edit] Further readingEdit

  • Bird-David, Nurit. 1991. "Animism Revisited: Personhood, environment, and relational epistemology", Current Anthropology 40, pp. 67–91. Reprinted in Graham Harvey (ed.) 2002. Readings in Indigenous Religions (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 72–105.
  • Hallowell, A. Irving. "Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view" in Stanley Diamond (ed.) 1960. Culture in History (New York: Columbia University Press). Reprinted in Graham Harvey (ed.) 2002. Readings in Indigenous Religions (London and New York: Continuum) pp. 17–49.
  • Harvey, Graham. 2005. Animism: Respecting the Living World (London: Hurst and co.; New York: Columbia University Press; Adelaide: Wakefield Press).
  • Ingold, Tim: 'Rethinking the animate, re-animating thought'. Ethnos, 71(1) / 2006: pp. 9–20.
  • Wundt, W. (1906). Mythus und Religion, Teil II. Leipzig 1906 (Völkerpsychologie, volume II).
  • Quinn, Daniel. The Story of B
  • Käser, Lothar: Animismus. Eine Einführung in die begrifflichen Grundlagen des Welt- und Menschenbildes traditionaler (ethnischer) Gesellschaften für Entwicklungshelfer und kirchliche Mitarbeiter in Übersee. Liebenzeller Mission, Bad Liebenzell 2004, ISBN 3-921113-61-X.
    • mit dem verkürzten Untertitel Einführung in seine begrifflichen Grundlagen auch bei: Erlanger Verlag für Mission und Okumene, Neuendettelsau 2004, ISBN 3-87214-609-2.
  • Badenberg, Robert: "How about 'Animism'? An Inquiry beyond Label and Legacy". In: Mission als Kommunikation. Festschrift für Ursula Wiesemann zu ihrem 75.Geburtstag, edited by Klaus W. Müller. VTR, Nürnberg 2007; ISBN 978-3-937965-75-8 and VKW, Bonn 2007; ISBN 978-3-938116-33-3.

[edit] External linksEdit

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